WILL SMITH famously turned down the lead role in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
He said he “didn’t want to make a slavery film about vengeance,” or “believe in violence as the reaction to violence”.
The Oscar winner has clearly changed his tune with Emancipation — one of the most brutally violent slave dramas to date.
Directed by Training Day and The Equalizer’s Antoine Fuqua, the Louisiana-set film is based on the harrowing true story of “Whipped Pete” the enslaved man whose mutilated back was photographed and became fuel for the abolitionist movement against the cruelty of American slavery.
Fuqua transports us back to the 1860s before this image was captured, and the washed-out, monochrome visuals match the bleakness of Peter’s life.
Given how little was known about the historic figure, narrative licence is taken to provide Peter with a backstory and a dangerously courageous journey toward freedom.
The film opens with Peter — played by Smith — sharing a final prayer with his wife (Charmaine Bingwa) and children before being forcefully carted off to build railway tracks for the Confederate army.
Once Peter learns of President Lincoln’s proclamation to free slaves in rebel states, he escapes and seeks out a Union outpost. But he is doggedly pursued by Ben Foster’s slave hunter Fassel.
Both men deliver subtle performances of conviction but while Foster’s Fassel wears the quiet cruel air of a white male superiority complex, Smith’s vibrates with internal rage.
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Peter has the determination to fight back but his road to salvation, while tensely tracked through crocodile-infested swamps and hostile plantations, is laborious to watch.
The story invests too much in the brutality inflicted on black bodies.
It begs the question why the filmmakers felt it necessary for audiences to endure such a high level of visual torture in lieu of soulful exploration of who Peter and his family are beyond victims to white supremacy.
The scourge of American slavery is known the world over but the marginalised individuals who played a part in ending it are not.
Emancipation is a worthy endeavour but the delivery is an exhausting effort.
- In cinemas and on Apple+
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The Silent Twins
MOVING in wordless harmony, Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance form an eerie presence in this telling of a remarkable true story.
They play June and Jennifer Gibbons, twins from Haverfordwest, Pembroke, who paid a heavy price for choosing only to speak to each other.
From the age of three they shut out the world and at 18 they were sent to Broad-moor psychiatric hospital.
Director Agnieszka Smoczynska attempts to get inside the twins’ heads, revealing some of their imaginary world via animation and dream sequences.
It is an original approach that shows visual flair, but it slows down the drama.
What impresses most is Black Panther actress Wright and theatre star Lawrance, who are on each other’s wavelength just like the twins must have been.
The 18 certificate may give the wrong impression about this film.
It is less violent than many 15 films and the sex scenes are not graphic.
The main issue I have with it is that it was hard to fully engage with these insular characters.
Nevertheless, this story will leave you speechless.
A Muppets Christmas Carol
(PG) 85 mins
IT wouldn’t feel like Christmas without the words “Light the lamp not the rat!” screamed by Rizzo in this marvellous adaptation.
I’m a huge fan of Charles Dickens’ festive tale of the spirit – and Spirits – of Christmas and there is no better version made for the screen than this.
It is back to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie’s original release in 1992.
Directed by Brian Henson, son of the late Jim who created the glorious world of the Muppets, this is a perfect movie, incorporating sorrow, joy and humour into the often sombre tale.
Kermit is Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy his wife, and the Great Gonzo is Dickens.
Michael Caine plays Ebenezer Scrooge superbly, with the perfect balance between frosty contempt of his fellow man (and muppet) and his sudden understanding of empathy and love.
Every single scene is a delight and every song – including the stoical One More Sleep ’Til Christmas and joyful Thankful Heart – hits the perfect note.
A must-see movie for all the family.
- On Disney+ from Sunday, December 11.