Some actors have the gift to be able to successfully represent other cultures, especially when it comes to accents. Being a fan of the show “Sons of Anarchy”, I was shocked to realize that Charlie Hunnam is from Australia given how convincing his American accent was. It is also said that English in America is the hardest language to learn given the number of dialects and slang even within our own country, and this is part of what has shaped how I feel about “Emancipation”.
Award-winning director Antoine Fuqua works with Will Smith, Ben Foster, Gilbert Owuor, Aaron Moten, Steven Ogg, Ronnie Gene Blevins and Charmaine Bingwa in this film based on actual events. This story takes place in 1863 where Peter (Smith) and his family are slaves on a Louisiana plantation. He is taken to fight in the Civil War by the Confederate Army as a tax for the war, and while working on a site he overhears soldiers stating that the slaves were freed as the Union army liberates the as they advance. Peter starts an uprising with multiple slaves who decide to try to escape and reach the Union Army for freedom while being pursued by a top slave hunter named Jim Fassel (Foster) try to capture Peter and his fellow slaves before they can reach freedom.
Given the subject matter, this film is dark both metaphorical and literal. The cinematography even reflects the mood of the script with darker lenses giving different shades in the same way it is done in “Schindlers List”. With a script like this, Fuqua is a good choice given his experience on films like “Training Day,” especially with the violence involved. I was taken out of the story a bit when comparing some of the events to what I have read about that time, and there are definitely some gaps.
There has been a little buzz for Smith as it pertains to the upcoming award season; for me did a good job, but not great. There a number of performances I have seen this year that would surpass him in this category, so I am not sure that I would put him on the list to be recognized for this film. Given the fact that I was not impressed with his performance in “Concussion” as a man of Nigerian descent, my bar was set low here, and he still did not clear it. WWE superstar Apollo Crews recently played a character on their programming that was supposed to be Nigerian royalty, and I felt his attempt at that accent was better than either Smith’s in “Concussion” or in “Emancipation”. I have loved some of Fuqua’s past films, but there was an attempt that I truly feels falls real short. I will recommend this film only if you already have an Apple TV+ subscription because this film is not worth getting the subscription of you do not have one, much less in a theater.