Any discussion of “Emancipation” will inevitably be clouded by the Will Smith of it all, and Apple’s decision to release the movie into the teeth of awards season.

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The focus will thus skew toward Smith and lingering fallout from “the slap” during last year’s Oscars, and away from an earnest

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handsome film that’s generally solid but unspectacular enough to render that conversation largely moot

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Director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) has teamed with writer William N. Collage to craft an elaborate plot around the real-life 1863 photo known as “Whipped Peter

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starkly illustrating the ravages slavery inflicted on the back of a man who escaped bondage after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

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Peter’s story thus becomes the spine of a grueling escape adventure, shot in striking black and white

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that only seems to heighten the harrowing nature of his flight, the dankness of the Louisiana swamps and the brutality that it entails.

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Taken to work laying railroad track, Peter overhears word of Lincoln’s pronouncement and realizes his best chance at freedom involves reaching the Union Army in Baton Rouge

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