Posts Tagged ‘BenFoster’

Will Smith

“EMANCIPATION” My rating: B (Apple+)

132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

One of the most famous photographs of the Civil War era — a portrait of a shirtless runaway slave named Peter who displays a hideous crosshatch of whipping scars — gets a compelling back story in “Emancipation.”

This inspired-by-fact yarn is especially noteworthy for its borderline brilliant visual sense.

Will Smith stars as Peter, the enslaved blacksmith on a Louisiana plantation. Peter has a wife and several children, but he is requisitioned by the Confederate Army to build a railway line under conditions that are even more brutal than what he’s accustomed to.

Learning that Union troops are only a few miles away across a daunting swamp, Peter and two other slaves make a break for freedom, pursued by dogs and the relentless runaway hunter Fassel (Ben Foster).

Eventually Peter finds himself in the ranks of an all-black unit of Lincoln’s army, seeing brutal action while never forgetting his burning desire to be reunited with his family.

Director Anton Fuqua (“Training Day,” “King Arthur,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Magnificent Seven”) and writer Bill College have fashioned a wrenching experience — part historical/social statement, part chase flick, part battle epic — that works best when it keeps its mouth shut.

Now I don’t doubt that slavery-supporting Southerners were mean, arrogant, dyed-in-the-wool assholes. I only wish the filmmakers had depicted them more through their despicable actions than through heavy-handed dialogue.

Foster (who seems to be falling back into his early career typecasting as an eye-rolling maniac) is saddled with a monologue about being raised on his father’s plantation by a slave woman, whom he considered his adoptive mother until he subsequently betrayed her. Why is he telling us this? Is he conflicted about the experience? Feeling guilty?

Nah…after all, he’s made a career of catching fugitive slaves.

But that’s the thing here…all too frequently we get didacticism instead of dialogue.

Faring far better is Smith, who gives an almost exclusively physical performance. When he talks it’s either to impart necessary information or to extoll his religious faith, which runs strong and unquestioned. Clearly this man has depths of resolve which a lifetime of beatings have not touched.

If “Emancipation” sometimes grates on the ear, it’s a treat for the eyes. Robert Richardson’s cinematography must be seen to be believed. The images have been so color desaturated that they often can be mistaken for black-and-white (only yellow flames seem to break through the monochrome); the effect is of a Civil War daguerrotype come to life.

Moreover, Richardson employs drones for many sweeping shots, including a mind-blowing battlefield flyover that finally comes to rest on Smith’s battle-smudged face. I haven’t seen its like since Bondarchuk’s epic 1965 “War and Peace.”

| Robert W. Butler

The real Peter

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lone-survivor-wahlberg“LONE SURVIVOR” My rating: B (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A superior action film based on real events, “Lone Survivor” is a modern update of the classic “lost patrol” movie in which a small unit of soldiers is trapped behind enemy lines and, often, doomed to fight to the last man.

It was inspired by Operation Red Wings, a 2005 mission in which four Navy SEALs were dropped in the mountains of Afghanistan to locate and keep tabs on a Taliban war lord.  As the title suggests, it didn’t go well.

The opening credits of writer/director Peter Berg’s action drama unfold against documentary footage of the grueling (some might say sadistic) training that potential SEALs must negotiate to become part of this elite fighting force. It’s so rough that bodies and spirits begin to break down. For some classes the dropout rate is 90 percent.

The ones who last are tough bastards.

The film proper begins with one of the SEALSs, Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), being evacuated by a rescue team. He’s been badly wounded and dies as the medics scramble to revive and stabilize him.

Berg’s screenplay, adapted from the non-fiction book by Luttrell and Patrick Robinson (obviously, Luttrell lived to tell the tale), then flashes back several days as the four members of Operation Red Wings are briefed and make preparations for their mission.


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