Loosely based on the true story of a real Civil War era slave who escaped and eventually served as a soldier in the war, Antoine Fuqua’s Emancipation is a movie that obviously makes some embelishment’s on this slave’s harrowing journey to the occasional points of disbelief. The movie sometimes plays out like a tall tale where the storyteller doesn’t know when to call it quits. It has been said that a lie can be easily detected by its excess of details. And that is the big problem with what could have been a more compelling story of a man fighting for his freedom and the freedom of his family.
Even thought the Emancipation Proclamation has been issued by President Lincoln and the United States government, the slave owners in the southern Confederate States of America continue to deny Black people of their freedom. As the south gets further embroiled in the war, slave owners on plantations begin to take further measures to protect their “property.” In doing so, a family of slaves is about to be separated from partriarch Peter (Will Smith). Despite his strongest efforts, he gets take away from his wife and children, but still manages to escape. Peter will not only have to brave the elements, and the war, but also a slave hunter named Fassel (Ben Foster).
Written by William N. Collage, Fuqua’s Emancipation does have plenty of remarkable and powerful moments, but also feels overstuffed when it comes to the overall experience. To its benefit, the cinematography by Robert Richardson, the editing by Conrad Buff IV, and the outstanding work of the production crew make the film a visually stunning experience. It really is a beautiful thing to behold at times; however in other far too many moments, Emancipation becomes a snooze fest.
I will say that Will Smith puts much heart and soul into his performance as Peter. His acting is another aspect that kept pulling me back in whenever I was losing interest. As Fassel, Ben Foster performs solidly, but his character’s writing and development is not very dimensional. Charmaine Bingwa gives a powerful and emotional turn as Peter’s wife Dodienne, but doesn’t get enough screentime.
Emancipation is a movie so gorgeous that I would recommend watching it in the theater for simply experiencing and beholding its visual beauty. That said, if one has an awesomely large screen television at home or a projection system, I would recommend watching it at home, since this movie’s flaws could go down smoother with some breaks for restroom, snacks, or what have you.