Emancipation (2022)

Emancipation (2022)

2022 132 Minutes

Thriller | History | Drama

Inspired by the gripping true story of a man who would do anything for his family—and for freedom. When Peter, an enslaved man, risks his life to escape and return to his family, he embarks on a...

Overall Rating

4 / 10
Verdict: So-So

User Review

  • d_riptide


    4 / 10
    Will Smiths’ return to the screen after the infamous Oscars debacle is a rather frustrating and befuddling watch as “Emancipation” has enough ingredients to succeed but is too constrained to know either what it wants to be or how to go about it.

    I’m honestly surprised that Antoine Fuqua, of all people, was the director here; most of his visual storytelling points to fitting well in ‘critical race theory cinema’ and from a distance, he does his best. That being said, the striking black and white color palette helps mine the coarse elegance and mystifying beauty of the cinematography for a little bit and it definitely helps in some way where the film finally dares to show us some propulsive action and it’s handled better than it probably had any right to be. Editing wasn’t entirely problematic, it lives up to its R-rating emphatically, costumes are historically accurate enough and Will Smith’s return to our screens is one that levels out vulnerability and intensity without really adding layers to his character.

    The rest of the cast are….fine.

    All of these are definitely things to praise and the story itself is valiant in its attempts to, once again, desensitize the awful truths of how things operated back then despite its approach being a little exploitative…..and all of it might’ve been forgiven if the presentation of this premise wasn’t executed SO FREAKIN’ WEIRDLY.

    Almost absolutely everything about this movie feels like it went through multiple drafts on how to do everything else. Some of the dialogue ends up being very prosaic, the semi-monochrome desaturation color palette became distracting after a while, the drudging musical score has no memorability and hardly empowers what we see on screen, not a single character here has a scrapping of personality and are thinly drawn, I’m honestly appalled by the apparent lack of meaningful production design and forward momentum is just not a thing here thanks to awkward pacing. Even it’s handling of mismanaging genres leaves for a confusing and careless mixture of tone.

    And that’s before we get to the manner in which the overly performative, superficial screenplay treats the story of “Whipped Peter”, the man whose photograph of raised welts and strafe marks on his scarred back helped turn white Northerners against slavery…..as just another generic action, survival flick. I am aware that some liberties have to be taken with Peter concerning what little we know of him but most of it just feels largely inconsequential since similar to Antebellum, it’s too busy indulging in the fantasy and drowning itself in object misery to flesh anything out beyond sterile, surface level strippings.

    There’s a massive disconnect in what the movie presents and how the viewer is supposed to feel about it, mostly due to the fact that so many movies about this topic are eerily similar and partially because Fuqua’s technique sacrifices the potential starkness in this horrifying story for crude stylization that undermines the solemn intentions he might’ve had. On top of hurrying towards a conclusion that feels unearned if anything else because somebody just decided there needed to be a happy ending, there’s never a sense of anybody really accomplishing anything; it’s a true story so we already know how it ends but even the runtime begins to become grading when it bypasses interesting curveballs they could’ve thrown in or add in moments that serves no real purpose.

    I wish I could say I expected better but really, I’m just getting sick of these types of films in general; they obviously won’t stop so there’s nothing I can do but this doesn’t help either that or Will Smith’s case.