The Hollywood star plays Peter, a man who manages to flee from slavery on a Louisiana plantation after being whipped severely.
The film – based on the story of real-life escaped slave Gordon, also known as 'Whipped Peter' – is being released this month and there is Oscar buzz around it.
Smith, 54, has been banned from attending the awards for 10 years after the incident at the 2022 ceremony, which saw him storm onto the stage and strike comedian Chris Rock after he made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head.
However, he and the movie can still be nominated for a gong.
The Telegraph's Robbie Collin said the film was a "finely crafted, unflinching pursuit thriller" and that Smith is "terrific".
Giving it four out of five stars, the review said it could prove to be the actor's "redemption".
"If any film might make us forgive the infamous slap, this could be it," said Collin.
Variety said the actor gives a performance that "is not only soulful but commanding".
Writing in The Guardian, critic Peter Bradshaw said the film works "very efficiently as a thriller, with Peter on the run from his pursuers".
"Whatever his current travails, Will Smith brings a movie-star presence to this brutally violent civil war drama, with a physical stillness and defiantly steady gaze," he wrote, giving it four out of five stars.
Screen Daily said the movie is propelled by Smith's performance, adding: "Emancipation drags us through hell with him, its star’s magnetic presence our guide across an unforgiving landscape."
However, the reviewer at The Independent gave the film just two out of a possible five stars.
Clarisse Loughrey said nobody should doubt the "open-hearted sincerity" with which Smith and director Antoine Fuqua view the story as one of empowerment.
"But Emancipation is primarily a film concerned with individual heroism to a near-mythic extent (see: the alligator wrestling)," she added.
"How can that ever sit right with a historical trauma still viciously pumping through America’s bloodstream?"
Smith apologised after the awards show, saying in a statement that “violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive”.
He said hearing a joke about his wife – who has battled alopecia – was “too much” to bear and that he “reacted emotionally”.
Emancipation will be released on 9 December on Apple TV+.
Watch: Will Smith says bottled rage led to Oscars slap