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Release Date: 12/09/22
[Cinemas / Apple TV+]
Genre: Action/Thriller

Studio: Apple TV+

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


Emancipation is, unfortunately, a bloated film that thinks it has more substance than it actually contains. Will Smith, playing the lead, seems to be the only artist involved that truly understands what little the script and direction has to offer, leaning into a performance fit for the more straightforward survival thriller the film is more equipped to tackle.


I wish the film tackled more, of course. I wish commentary on race theory was stronger. I wish the characterizations were stronger so the audience can be more attached to our underdog heroes and cheer for their success. I also wish it showed that emancipation is just the first step of overcoming a struggle we still see today. Emancipation falls into the genre of stories that believe once slavery was abolished, all was right with the world.


It’s interesting watching this film shortly after reading Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel "Invisible Man", a story of a young Black man navigating through a society that says they care about him, but only use him to further their own agendas. Intentional or not, there are hints of parallelism between that novel and this film, notably at a point where Will Smith’s character joins an army leading the emancipation and sees his fellow men gunned down. However, the film doesn’t explore any of this scenario thematically, instead focusing on mesmerizing imagery that ultimately means nothing and takes up a lot of screen time because it believes so desperately that it means everything.


A fantastic performance by Will Smith matched with beautiful shot composition and mostly interesting color grading can’t make this 2hr15m feel like a journey. It’s a slog, it’s empty-handed social justice, and its production value leads me to believe it exists to bait an Oscar.

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