Movie Review: “Emancipation” works more as an action film than a history lesson

Director Antoine Fuqua is the real focal point of “Emancipation”. Yes, this is a Will Smith movie, but the black and white film is at its best when it deploys its immersive action sequences, with the historical abomination of slavery serving as a backdrop.

Smith stars as Peter, a slave separated from his family to work on the railroad. When the opportunity for escape arrives, he bolts into the Louisiana swamp towards freedom, as word of the Emancipation Proclamation spreads through the country.

Emancipation is mostly a survival action movie. Fuqua, who also directed “Training Day” and “Olympus has Fallen” decides to make the film a sprawling sequence through the wilderness and using the black and white looks in a gritty fashion that underlines how terrible the period was. Will Smith is good, but Ben Foster as the slavery true believer, Fassel, gets to showcase his talent through a hateful being that refuses to let the practice of slavery die. We also have to look at Charmaine Bingwa here who is terrific as Smith’s wife. She’s the light in the film to counteract Foster’s darkness.

But we’re left to wonder if “Emancipation” should be this good of an action film, when it’s been marketed and filmed in the fashion that almost makes it feel like an educational film. Everything Apple and Fuqua does always looks great but should they have spiked the football on a subject that is this dark?

If you stream “Emancipation” with expectation of an action film, you should be satisfied. If you’re looking for an educational reminder of how awful this period of American history was, then you might want to look elsewhere.



Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Rated: R

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *