Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Distributed by: Apple TV+
Written by Alexander Reams
There was a time when “Directed by Antoine Fuqua” meant something, it meant a director who knew how to make entertaining fare that would become a hit on tv channels (I swear “Shooter” and “Tears of the Sun” were on TNT every other day in the late 2000s), but the further along his career goes, the more he is turning into another failed action director who somehow still gets a budget, Uwe Boll. The main difference is Fuqua can still attract major stars, Denzel, Gyllenhaal, Pascal, and now Will Smith is headlining Fuqua’s latest. The problem with casting Smith right now is the baggage that comes with it, which is why Apple dumped this last minute in 2022 with very little fanfare, they know this is a huge misfire, and for once the studio was correct, “Emancipation” is Fuqua’s laziest to date.
Starting from the top down, Smith is in fine form, his performance is good without veering into hammy, and he has some actual great scenes with Ben Foster, who plays the slave hunter Fassel. The scene from the trailer where Fassel explains to Peter that he now owns him plays out even better on screen, and Foster is terrifying but compared to the lengthy 135 minutes that “Emancipation” runs for, it’s far too little for so much boredom. This is now a recurring problem with Fuqua’s recent works, “Infinite” and “The Guilty” suffered from this, too little substance for too much movie, his films are consistently overlong, and that causes all other aspects of the film to drag as well. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is great, but the color grading in the film makes this borderline black and white while having flashes of color, in the vein of “Sin City,” it’s a stylistic choice that never should’ve been considered and makes “Emancipation” a bland film to look at. The action is serviceable, but nothing special, the moral of the movie should be that. There is nothing special here.