The colour of feelings
Director of Training Daymovies Equalizer and the recent remake of The GuiltyAntoine Fuqua is one of those filmmakers with a certain taste for style and directing effects that are certainly generous, but a bit flashy. Emancipation is no exception to the rule. Between aesthetic slow-motion, large movements, elaborate compositions and spectacular pyrotechnics: if not virtuoso and/or really impressive, Emancipation demonstrates commendable technical know-how.
This taste for form will be able to satisfy spectators eager for a certain plastic pleasure, what is more exalted by selective black and white photography, here characterized by green and yellow/orange hues. This image by Robert Richardson (chief operator of Quentin Tarantino as well as a few films directed by Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese) is also reminiscent of the little girl in red from Schindler’s Listor the surging colors of the SinCity.
Less sensitive, significant and generous than its predecessors, Emancipation nevertheless has the merit of increasing its shape with a nice aesthetic challenge by taking the viewer out of his visual comfort zone. Moreover, Antoine Fuqua’s staging makes it possible to wrap some impactful images and sequencesincluding one face to face with a dog and another confrontation with a hungry crocodile.
In addition, a few somewhat graphic and gory shots give the whole a bit of density and stake, with great blows of severed heads and torn off legs, not giving the impression that the cotton fields of the 1800s were all beautiful and all pink. Thanks to some quality special effects, one or two movements with a little breadth and a sense of rhythm, certainly not virtuosic, but quite effective, Emancipation manages to deliver a properly packaged and filmed narrative.
A film that has a mouthful
Will Smith Unchained
A technique that is unfortunately stifled by the smooth and wise side of the ultra-tagged American biopic. Text panels at the beginning and end of the film, heroic discourse on epic music and more or less artificial iconization of the hero are the symptoms seen and reviewed of a filmic structure such as there are tetrachiae across the Atlantic.
A classic formula in short, to wrap a story that is just as much, with the story of a father who must find his family and who will live many adventures to achieve it. Values of family, courage and belief: everything is there in this mid-budget package of quietly conservative historic entertainment. Despite everything, from this threadbare framework, Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter Bill Collage (Exodus: Gods and Kings, the Carrier – Legacy, Assassin’s Creed) could still have delivered an effective, well-honed and/or sensitive survival…
Well no, Emancipation is not original enough to surprise, and sounds far too fake to impress. The very game of Will Smith who delivers here a lambda performance at Oscarswith blows of big eyes, intense screams and advertising stares, all topped off with a faux Haitian accent to cut with a knife. Like the staging of the film, the Hollywood actor shows off his big arms, but never really knows what to do with them, thus completely stifling the viewer’s emotion.
Will Smith horror picture show
Moreover, his character is nothing more than the archetype sanded down to the marrow of the American hero without nuance or depth. The absence of a complex characterization is not a problem in itself, but when the protagonist becomes a caricature of a demigod with unlimited benevolence and courageall empathy and emotional involvement of the viewer are cut off.
Ditto for the antagonist of the film who, despite the presence of Ben Foster, never goes beyond the stage of the cold, unsympathetic and megalomaniacal big bad. This strong Manichaeism constantly brings these characters back to their script function figure, preventing the viewer from being touched and/or worried by their conflict.
« Ah greuh, I’m mean! »
It is the same for the secondary characters of the film who accompany the journey of Will Smith, simple mechanical tools without characterization who serve most of the time as cannon fodder. Even the reverse shot on the protagonist’s family, who desperately awaits his return, is too superficial to be truly touchingending up weighing down the narrative of the character’s nightmarish journey.
While the serious and solemn tone ofEmancipation invites you to an ample and sensitive account of the condition of slaves in the early 1860s, the film never questions its scriptwriting clichés and thus prevents any relevance. The only character who could bring an ounce of nuance, conflict and therefore discourse could have been the African-American antagonist who is in Ben Foster’s camp.
But there again, the film makes nothing of it except a vague monologue of which he is neither the object nor the narrator. Finally, even with a filmmaker who knows how to construct a framework, the ambition ofEmancipation is constantly suffocated by a scenario that has no point of view, but is convinced that it has one.
Emancipation is available on Apple TV+ since December 9, 2022