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  • Writer's pictureWill Scarbrough

Review: Emancipation

A runaway slave forges through the swamps of Louisiana on a tortuous journey to escape plantation owners that nearly killed him.

Will Smith & Ben Foster.

Emancipation is a confusing mess with a terrific performance from Will Smith who has consistently impressed audiences for years now with his acting range. Even from the trailer, it appeared that he would impress, however the colour grading presented in the trailer is a glaring issue here too. Despite being well shot in many instances, its ugly desaturated grading brings any form of visual storytelling and becomes a glaring distraction.

Another glaring issue is its directing & its poor mash of genre between drama and action. For the first half of the film, it presents itself as a drama, while the directing contradicts that with slow motion and high frame rate, giving the impression of an action film. This eventually leads to its action packed third act that finally pays off its sluggish first two acts, with great production design and music, it could almost be enough to bring an audience around with the film. Unfortunately, it never tries to do more with its emotional core. It completely relies on the natural emotional response that people have to slavery, the feeling of sadness and anger, never attempting to be more with that and leave the audience thinking or feeling differently to slavery films that have come before.

Will Smith is fantastic & he is the main focus, but not as much as I personally would have preferred. Many scenes begin to follow other characters that never add anything to the overall story, it holds back the films pacing and extends the runtime far over what it should be.

Despite its flaws, the music & directing in the 3rd act really bring you around the film and it’s empathetic intentions are as clear as any previous act. Along with Will Smith’s powerful performance that keeps the film grounded and steady. Emancipation is a mess, yet admirable at times.

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