Leaving aside the infamous moment at the last Oscar Awards ceremony, there is no doubt that Will Smith is a great actor, as he has shown in films like Six Degrees of Separation, Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Souls, The Hidden Truth, and King Richardwith which he won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor.
But there are a number of movies in which Smith looks tired, overwhelmed and lacking in energy. As if he did not want to belong to the project that revolves around him. just look Suicide Squad, Unexpected Beauty either bright, to see an actor who can give much more. Pitifully, Emancipation, his first work after the Oscar scandal, belongs to this last group.
Its director is Antoine Fuqua, whose career can be paralleled with Smith’s. The works of him full of energy and strength as Training Day, Tears of the Sun, The Equalizer, and The Magnificent Sevencontrast with works that feel empty and soulless, such as King Arthur, Shooter, Attack on the White House, Redemption either Infinite. Sadly, Emancipation, although it is not as terrible as Infinitefalls into this category.
Fuqua and Smith’s film tells the story of a slave, but it is a far cry from Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning masterpiece in 2013. The result of this collaboration is a nihilistic and extremely cruel film that, although it is presented in a particularly monochrome tone (probably inspired by schindler’s list), does not reduce his excess blood and torture.
While it is true that the terrible events that occurred to the African-American population in the era of slavery should not be hidden or embellished, the truth is that Emancipation it only leaves us with a bitter taste caused by sadism, pain and evil, in a similar way to what happened with the 1989 film The triumph of the spirit where Willem Dafoe played Salamo Arounch, a Jewish boxer in a Nazi concentration camp, with no chance to redeem himself.
Smith plays Peter, a character inspired by a real person, but unlike Dafoe’s boxer, he belongs more to fiction than historical verisimilitude. “Peter the Whipped” was a slave who fled from his captors in 1863, to enlist in the abolitionist army. Two photographers, seeing his broken back, took a photo of him that became a powerful argument in favor of the abolitionist movement and a testament to the dignity, heroism and strength of whom he posed for her.
Smith’s Peter is a man of faith, devoted husband to Diodenne (a terrific Charmaine Bingwa) and loving father born in Haiti, who suffers the misfortune of being a slave along with his entire family. Peter is forcibly separated from them and forced to work building railroads and fortifications for the Confederate army, facing a situation that puts him on the brink of death.
Thus, together with other slaves, he decides to take advantage of an opportunity and escape through the Louisiana swamps to meet Lincoln’s army that battles in the Baton Rouge region. The hunter for him is the racist, sadistic and psychopathic Jim Fassel, played by Ben Foster, an actor who recently played Harry Haft, another Jewish boxer who survived the Holocaust in the great film Fighting for my life. Foster is an expert at playing these kinds of roles, and his Fassel is the embodiment of pure evil.
What ensues is a manhunt involving crocodiles, angry dogs, beheadings, mutilations and dying children, culminating in a war zone with more blood and severed limbs. The analogy between the tortured figure of Christ and that of Peter here is self-evident. But just like the Mel Gibson movie, Fuqua sticks with the torture and leaves out the resurrection.