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Emancipation Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

A bleak, uninspired biopic loosely based on the real-life account of the escaped slave Gordon, also known as “Whipped Peter”.

Genre: Biopic / Drama / Thriller

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Will Smith, Bill Foster, Gilbert Owuor, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Aaron Moten, Michael Luwoye, Steven Ogg, Jabar Lewis & Charmaine Bingwa.

Run Time: 132 min.

US Release: 09 December 2022 (Apple TV+)

UK Release: 09 December 2022 (Apple TV+)

German Release: 09 December 2022 (Apple TV+)

Welcome to my final entry for 2022, which is sadly not a positive one! This review is for a movie that nearly flew under my radar, as I never saw any promotional material or trailers for it anywhere. It has Antoine Fuqua helming the directing chair, which got me pumped as I am a fan of most of his features. It stars Will Smith, which got me even more excited as I am a fan of his! Yet, it all fell apart minutes later, mostly due to the script. So let us take a deeper look at where this biopic failed.

Based on the true story of Peter, a runaway slave amid the American Civil War, who forges through the swamps of Louisana on a painful journey to Baton Rouge, in an attempt to escape his brutal owners and save his family.

The main issue with this movie is the script written by Bill Collage, the man who gifted us with the screenplays of Exodus: Gods & Kings, The Transporter Refuelled and the silver-screen adaptation of Assassins Creed. He was not the right person to develop the script for this project, focusing on the wrong angle narrative-wise, as well as harming what could have been an emotionally insightful premise about the history behind the foto of “Whipped Peter”.

Instead, we obtain an excruciatingly long survival thriller, reminiscent of The Revenant in some parts, but never as intriguing as Iñárritu’s Best Motion Picture winner. The story structure is badly balanced, making for troubled pacing. Long stretches of segments are included, in which nothing of interest happens. This included cutbacks to his family, which bring no value to the overall plot. It also hints at the main character being divinely guided by god through the marshes; a big stretch for a historical bio-drama.

That said, not all is bad. It does include suspenseful moments, while on the run from the men hunters with their hounds. The building of tension between the lead and his enslavers is built up well, as is the inclusion of certain action sequences that break up some of the strained scenes.

Given the epoch, as well as the geographical location this plays in, most of the dialogues contain southern drawls. On top of that, Will Smith took it up to learn some Haitian Creole, as his character is from Haiti. That said, given the fact that Smith does have issues with accents, he decided to lower his voice, speaking nearly in whispers.

Will Smith gives a great rendition of runaway slave Peter! His performance is gripping, just like physically sacrificing. It might seem at first like he is brooding along every scene, though, if one pays attention, it becomes clear that he is keeping his head down, while attentively learning about his surroundings. The character is based on an actual historic person, a runaway slave called Gordon, who became known as “Whipped Peter”, through the photographs taken from his back. As to the accuracy of the depiction, it is unclear how much is true.

I am a big fan of Ben Foster and think that he is an underrated actor! Here he proves just how great he is, portraying the runaway slave hunter Jim Fassel. Foster amazingly displays every despicable facette of this person, sending chilling vibes down viewers' backs, by simply inflecting on specific words when talking. That said, the writer's intention to flesh him out a little, to give him more sympathy completely failed!

Charmain Bingwa also makes an appearance as Doddienne, Peter’s wife. She has very limited screen time, with most of her scenes having no outcome, what so ever, to the overall movie. That said, she is great in every scene she is in!

I also had issues with some of the cinematographic choices made. I was not impressed by the exhausting colour palette, which was nearly fully desaturated. At times, specifically during the ending, it was as if watching a black-and-white film, yet light nuances of colours always stood out. This had the unfortunate side-effect that it zapped the story from any feelings it wanted to convey. That said, the way the final battle is captured might be one of the best representations of pre-industrial war. The drone shots above the marshes plus swamps added a beautifully picturesque scenery of nature.

The set design is practical and very detailed, suiting the era it plays in. The same goes for makeup plus costume design. In addition, the effects for wounds or injuries look practical too, as this is an incredibly violent flick.

The music, by Marcelo Zarvos, is among the better aspects of this feature. Using detuned orchestral sounds, he successfully manages to evoke an eerie, threatening vibe, that adds to the suspense.


Verdict: Fuqua’s newest directorial is not an accurate historic recounting. It even fails as an emotionally intriguing slavery saga, with over-bloated storytelling, tedious segments in which nothing happens, and too much runtime. Twenty minutes could have easily been shaved off from the final runtime, without losing anything important. A major issue is the fact that writer Bill Collage, focused on the aspect of the story, creating a huge disfavour to the subject at hand. Will Smith gives a brilliant performance, never coming off as brooding, but as quietly observing and learning. However, the lack of backstory to his character does diminish his rendition. Ben Foster is equally great, though the attempt to humanise his character fails! The desaturated colours are frustrating, zapping any spirit from the premise, making it look more like artistic snobbery for the award season. The music, on the other hand, is powerful! Emancipation is mediocre, not deserving more than a 5.0 out of 10.

Thank you all for supporting me this year! I hope I could give you a little more insight into the world of movies. I wish you all a happy New Year & see you in 2023, with new reviews!


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