Just eight months after Will Smith took the stage at the Academy Awards and slapped comedian Chris Rock in the face and slapped him with a 10-year ban from the ceremony, the actor is back in a major movie.
Too early? Probably. But the 54-year-old is very good at film and might even be — buckle up — an Oscar contender.
Running time: 132 minutes. Rated R (strong racist violence, disturbing images and language). In theaters December 2nd. On AppleTV+ on December 9th.
Emancipation, an otherwise well-worn period drama about the horrors of slavery, showcases more of Smith’s rich emotionality and laser-focused intensity, which he discovered late in his career and which earned him the Oscar for last year’s King Richard. ”
Now, Smith’s quick comeback — in a movie on Apple TV+, the same company that gave us best picture winner CODA, which was already in the can — could be giving the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a headache. His performance is solid enough to earn him a Best Actor nomination, if not a win over front-runner Brendan Fraser for festival favorite The Whale.
In a believable, faint Haitian accent, he performs “Whipped Peter,” the subject of the famous 1863 photograph of an abused former slave that helped educate the world about the inhumane evils of slavery.
Forcibly separated from his wife (Charmaine Bingwa) and children in Louisiana, Peter and three other captive men race from a oppressive labor camp to Baton Rouge to attempt to join Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army – and claim their freedom after they learned about the Emancipation Declaration.
“Lincoln freed the slaves,” they whisper – and start planning.
The men wander through treacherous swamps, pursued by their former owner, Fassel (Ben Foster, also like a James Bond villain), his henchmen, and vicious hounds as they attempt to survive the natural dangers of their surroundings. Peter gets into a fight with an alligator. (Hey – Leo DiCaprio won the Oscar for fighting a bear!)
Director Antoine Fuqua underscores the agony of Peter’s story with a slew of gruesome imagery – a man being branded, there are severed heads of slaves on spikes and we see a mass grave covered in flies, among other stomach-churning sights. It’s hard to take, but the right way to honor Peter’s horrific photo. The color palette of the film is not completely black and white either, but washed out like a faded picture.
What hinders Fuqua is a résumé full of action thrillers. At times the tone and attitude of the film is more reminiscent of Equalizer 2 than 12 Years a Slave. Marcelo Zarvo’s relentless score before finding cinematic momentum during a later Civil War battle suggests a modern day revenge film with cars and cool sunglasses. Of course, Fuqua’s 2001 crime thriller Training Day didn’t receive any Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Screenplay — but Denzel Washington still won Best Actor for his performance in it.
Don’t be surprised if Smith snags at least a Golden Globe nomination for “Emancipation.”
The scandal-plagued Hollywood Foreign Press Association is making a comeback of its own after an embarrassing diversity scandal that prompted NBC to cancel the 2022 show. And, awkwardly for them, this year’s field of acclaimed male actors is #SoWhite: Fraser (“The Whale”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Bill Nighy (“Living ‘) and Hugh Jackman (‘The Son’) lead the pack. At the Globes, Butler is likely to be shortlisted for best actor in a musical or comedy, as is Farrell. An earlier collaboration between Farrell and director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges was classified as a comedy by the HFPA. That leaves Smith with several options — and an opportunity for the HFPA to boost the plummeting ratings of their troubled ceremony.
Smith is obviously not hiding from the limelight anymore either. Last week he did a mediocre apology interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show and spoke to Fox 5 DC about the fallout from the controversy, saying he will “perfectly understand” if viewers aren’t ready to see Emancipation, because of the blow.
If Smith is nominated, he will not be allowed to attend the Oscars for the time being. The Globes and SAG Awards are fair game. But who would have thought eight months ago that he would even be in the running for an Oscar? Anything can happen in Hollywood.
https://nypost.com/2022/12/01/will-smith-shockingly-could-get-an-oscar-nom-for-emancipation/ Will Smith could shockingly land an Oscar for Emancipation