After winning the Oscar a year earlier for the role of Richard Williams, Will Smith seemed to have the ambition to follow in the footsteps of Tom Hanks and try to win the most important film award two years in a row. That will most certainly not happen, and it is easily possible that the role of a runaway slave from the American South in 1863 will bring him the Golden Raspberry this time. It’s a bit unreal how irritating Smith is in this role and I don’t know if someone forgot to tell him what kind of movie he’s in and that “Emancipation” is not a historical drama on the lines of “12 Years a Slave” as the academy voters like it, but the master of action movies Antoine Fuqua filmed a strange prank.
It is a fact that Denzel Washington managed to win an Oscar for the main role for his performance in Fuqua’s action crime film “Training Day”, but this was something very strange. Not so bad, if you manage to chew on Smith with a goatee who keeps making faces like he’s doing that pre-match warrior dance with the New Zealand rugby team. Perhaps “Emancipation” would be best described as a strange mix in the beginning of a historical drama, which then turns into a survivalist action thriller and ends up as a war movie. The reality of everything and anything is thrown in there, and a film that is nominally based on real events can hardly enter the category of historical dramas.
The inspiration for “Emancipation” screenwriter Bill Collage found in the life story of an escaped slave whose back was furrowed by countless lashes published in 1863 was a powerful flywheel for the abolition movement and proof of the cruelty of the slave owners. That slave, who in real life was called Gordon, and here Peter is Will Smith. And it really starts on the trail of “12 Years a Slave”, further spiced up with a gray, gloomy, almost black and white color palette and in a shocking and unimaginably cruel way, Fuqua shows life in the American South in that final phase of slavery.
The year is 1863 and the civil war is raging, and Peter is taken away from his family and farm in Louisiana to work behind the Confederate army building a railroad on which the southerners plan to bring heavy artillery. And it was in those moments that Peter heard Abraham Lincoln announce the emancipation of all slaves, and by chance he too would run away and try to get hold of the northern army and salvation. But he will be followed by the human tracker Fassel (Ben Foster), a cruel and merciless guy, and in those moments, what seemed like it could be a realistic historical drama, albeit with an exploitation flair, will turn into a survivalist action thriller. Peter will run through the swamps, the bloodthirsty Fassel and his men will chase him.
Of course, there are also crocodiles, children who scream as soon as they see black people, all kinds of scillas and charids waiting for Will on his way to safe territory. A bit bizarre, but Fuqua seems to have found one of the visual models for the depiction of the burning of the earth, insane cruelty and utter savagery in “Andrei Rublev” or “Ivan’s Childhood” by Andrei Tarkovsky. However, the attempt at such a visual style decided to upgrade to an almost exploitative approach to the treatment of this topic, and therefore “Emancipation” seems like a rather unsuccessful experiment, a bizarre attempt to combine action and art film. As the icing on the cake, there is also Will Smith who seems to have wandered into filming the wrong movie.