The review embargo on Antoine Fuqua’s much talked about runaway slave drama Emancipation lifted Wednesday night and early critics’ reaction to the Apple Original Films feature is decidedly mixed.
Critics praised EmancipationThe cast of Will Smith, the film’s controversy-stricken star, received applause along with his co-stars Ben Foster and Charmaine Bingwa. There was also praise for the montage of the survival thriller, and the different approach to the subject was appreciated. But some critics took issue with the film’s unrelenting brutality and look, with questions about Robert Richardson’s stylized cinematography and sparse script.
the hollywood reporterLovia Gyarkye writes that Emancipation it treats Peter’s escape and journey well, but the film is “hampered by a spare, spiritless script”. Gyarkye feels that the current real-world reality of a growing refusal to confront the horrors of slavery or attempts to rewrite history in some states in the US is disappointing when they don’t amount to much more than Oscar bait.”
Justin Chang, writing in the Los Angeles TimesI felt that Emancipation it couldn’t do justice to the true story of “Whipped Peter”, and had particular problems with Robert Richardson’s muted cinematography which, in its view, was at odds with the survival thriller Fuqua was seeking. “The further the film moves from Peter’s perspective, the more it undermines his own tension,” Chang writes.
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw was more effusive in his praise for Emancipation. In a four-star review, Bradshaw writes that Smith brings dignity and movie-star presence to a historical figure like Peter and that the film overall “works very efficiently as a thriller,” even if the third act isn’t quite as strong. “Perhaps the final confrontation with the hated Fassel is disappointing, given that it has to take place before the third act of Peter’s military enlistment, but this is a strong, ferocious and moving film,” Bradshaw writes.
“Emancipation he means well but is painfully upset,” writes Nick Schager in his review for the daily beast. Schager begins his review by asking if audiences are ready to forgive Smith, but also dwells on the actor’s “wooden” portrayal of Peter as “iconic hero and victim.” “Peter is closer to an emblem than a fully realized human being, which prevents Smith from getting under the character’s traumatized and fierce exterior,” Schager writes. The reviewer also took issue with the direction, writing, “While Fuqua’s characters are archetypal and therefore well suited to a thrilling action-adventure, if not a fully exploitative affair, the director plays things with too serious and majestic to generate any impulse or emotion.”
EmpireJohn Nugent opens his review of Emancipation with the line that “slavery is an almost impossible subject to achieve on screen.” The reviewer says that the precedents of the genre put Fuqua in a bind, so “in order to set the scene, the filmmakers feel compelled to first give us the same gruesome visuals common to almost every movie of this type.” Nugent thought that Smith was exceptional as Peter and felt that the third act, when the film moved away from “relentless inhumanity”, made Emancipation hit his step.
In his review for indiewireDavid Ehrlich described Emancipation as “an overblown B-movie with little gilded delusions of grandeur”. Ehrlich writes that “by virtue of its release date, theme, and star power alone, Emancipation was made to be viewed through the same narrow lens of the system that produced it, and “The Slap”: an existential threat. for any movie. dependent on the Oscars for market enthusiasm, ironically he did even more to get the film into the annual Hollywood horse race at his expense. Ehrlich adds that Smith puts “a simple but committed turn” that smacks of courting Oscar voters.
Richard Roeper, writing in the Chicago Sun TimesI felt that Emancipation It was a decent period action movie let down by excessive and silly moments, but fundamentally I wanted more substance. “It’s a well-made movie with some certainly exciting action sequences, but even after 2 hours and 12 minutes, it feels like we’ve just scratched the surface of this important part of American history,” Roeper writes. The reviewer praised Foster and Bingwa for elevating what were essentially one-dimensional characters.
colliderRoss Bonaime’s admired Smith’s performance in the film. “For an actor who has relied so heavily on his charisma in many of his roles, Emancipation it requires Smith to remain silent and still, filled with anger that is about to erupt, but with a faith that helps him turn away from this righteous anger. Smith has some moments that clearly feel like the Big Oscar Montage, but he’s at his best when he’s quietly reacting to his situation and surroundings,” Bonaime writes. But he adds that the film, “for all its intentions and unusual choices…is drowning under a wooden script full of banality, a director who doesn’t know how to keep the momentum of this story, and clichés bordering on parody.”
Emancipation will open in select theaters on December 2, followed by a worldwide streaming debut on Apple TV+ on December 9.
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