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  • Writer's pictureMatthieu Côté

EMANCIPATION Review: Emotional Tour-de-Force from Will Smith

Ten years ago, Will Smith was offered the role of Django in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and declined it because “of the violence”, a decision that he later regretted. This must’ve been eating him up because he finally decided to make his own slave movie with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), a much anticipated movie for different reasons. I’m going to address the elephant in the room, and then we can move on, this is the first Will Smith movie since the infamous slap at the Oscars which banned him from the ceremony for the next 10 years. That being said, Will Smith is still allowed to receive an Oscar nomination. Is there some potential for an Oscar here despite the controversy?

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

I don’t know about the Oscar nomination (it’s still possible) but honestly I don’t really care, because no matter what Will Smith poured his heart and soul on screen and gave us another powerful role that is worth seeing. Emancipation is led by the thrilling cat-and-mouse game between Will Smith & Ben Foster with their commanding performances and the inspiring story based on real events. It's an emotional journey that can be difficult to watch at times but it gets the job done and manages to be fulfilling.

Because of the heavy nature of the subject, it’s sometimes tough to watch but this is a part of history that needs to be shown, it adds an emotional weight once you get immersed into the story. Did we have enough films about slavery by now? Maybe, but Emancipation has its own tale to tell with a religious message, Peter (Will Smith) is hanging on to his faith in order to survive but he also has his strong courage. Make no mistake, Will Smith also gets a chance to show his action chops in this movie. There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing Will Smith beating a racist plantation owner, chopping his hand off with a shovel and fighting a crocodile in a swamp.

The survival aspect is something I deeply enjoyed, it was stressful to see Peter running for his life and fighting for his freedom at a time where Lincoln had just announced that slaves should be liberated but evil forces were still around. On a side note, I've been playing a lot of Red Dead: Redemption 2 lately and I've always been a big fan of westerns so even though it's not quite during the same era (30 years earlier), it's a period I love seeing on screen in terms of costume and atmosphere. The horses, cowboy hats, railroads, stagecoaches, old-fashioned campsites: it has a pulse even though the desaturated look of the film sucks some life out of it. I wished they went full black-and-white or color because I was bit thrown off at first but eventuenally I was on board mostly because legendary cinematographer Robert Richardson was able to pull off some miracles as usual.

When I think of "movie star", Will Smith is a name that immediately comes to mind. When he does this thing where he keeps a straight face and a single tear drops on the side of his cheek, you know this is a good Will Smith movie. I'm not going to lie, by the end of the film I don't know if someone was cutting onions but I did get the watery eyes. Even though it doesn't fully soar I just think it's an important story well-told with great values, there's also a roaring and powerful finale. By the end, this all felt very liberating and I really liked it.

Initial Score: 8/10

Emancipation will start streaming on Apple TV+ on December 9th

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