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Freedom Writers

2007-06-25 17:22
What it’s about:

When 23-year-old Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) started teaching at Woodrow Wilson High School in 1993, she had high hopes about making a difference in the world. But this was Los Angeles, barely a year after the Rodney King riots, and the district’s integration policy had turned this once stable school into a war zone. Desperate to get through to her troubled students, Erin began teaching them about everything from Anne Frank to rap music. But even bright-eyed Erin couldn’t have expected the avalanche of passion and creativity she would unleash.

What we thought of it:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a tough and/or idealistic teacher takes on a class of inner city kids, earns their respect and helps them turn their lives around. Yep, it’s the basic plot of everything from Stand and Deliver to Dangerous Minds to Coach Carter. But, for all it’s apparent familiarity, Freedom Writers is really a rare beast indeed - a based-on-a-true-story film that actually feels genuine.

One of the things that really sets the story apart – a detail that would seem exploitative if it weren’t true – is the emphasis on holocaust history, in particular “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Wanting to teach her students about the horrors of unchecked prejudice, Gruwell really did take them to the Holocaust Museum and also introduced them to survivors. Later, in what would become the most powerful scene in the movie, Gruwell and her students brought Miep Gies – the woman who hid Anne Frank – over from Amsterdam to address the class.

Writer / director Richard LaGravenese is best known for his screenwriting on films like The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer, and he certainly approaches this project with a writer’s eye for detail. It’s these sorts of touches – everything from using the real students’ diary entries as voice-over to recreating the jeers Gruwell suffered on her first day – that lend the film its realism.

But it’s his fine cast, lead by the gutsy Hilary Swank, that really hold LaGravenese’s movie together. When we first meet Swank’s terminally perky character, decked out in twinset and pearls, we are as unimpressed as her students and her fellow faculty members. But, like her students, we are eventually won over by her sheer determination and good will. Only an actress as accomplished as Swank could take the audience on this sort of journey, and put LaGravenese’s sly writing to such good use.

Swank’s efforts are mirrored by a strong supporting cast. Imelda Staunton, in particular, puts far more range into her portrayal of the villain of the piece (a senior teacher opposed to Gruwell’s methods), than this small role would normally command. As for the students, they are more earnest than accomplished, but the passion and honesty they bring to their roles is refreshing nonetheless.

And yet, for all its strengths, Freedom Writers is still a deeply conventional and predictable film. No matter how passionate it feels about its story, and no matter how pure its intentions, we have still seen almost all of it before. LaGravenese is a sucker for sentimental stories and tends to sacrifice drama and brevity for cuddly emotionality. The film is also a little overlong for its story, and includes a largely unnecessary subplot with Gruwell’s long-suffering husband (a small part on which the marvellous Patrick Dempsey is wasted).

But these criticisms all seem petty in the face of the film’s heartfelt message. No matter how muddy the pitch they are playing on may be, LaGravenese and his cast have the untouchable air of true believers. And, in a year dominated by empty-headed garbage and cynical sequels, Freedom Writers may be one of our only chances to actually feel something about a film.

- Alistair Fairweather
Yes, we've heard everything Freedom Writers has to say two dozens times before. But that doesn't make the message, or the movie, any less potent.

JeSTER 2007/05/17 10:42 AM
Freedon Writers not to shabby at all,... i think it was way better than Dangerous Minds,....and Hilary Swank actually impressed me, as i can't stand her, Spade to face actress, like that red head in Spiderman, anyway, that's beside the point, she actually impressed me in this movie and the movie actually impressed me on a whole,.....esp the part with the latino homeless kid,....brought a tear to my eye. i'd give it 4 out of 5, i can't wait till they make a movie of a black teacher from the ghetto teaching kids from Malibu, now that will be a movie i'd like to see if they can pull off.
Brandon 2007/05/17 10:54 AM
PLEASE GOD NO! Not another one of these "helping underachievers find themselves through the will of one strong woman" movies. Please, SOMEONE, hand over the Vicodin and the eco-sized box of Prozac. Mix it with booze! Hit me over the head with a Jamie Oliver frying pan... anything, but this drivel!
Lee 2007/05/17 12:43 PM
Freedon Writers It's been done to death, it's nothing new, and i wouldnt get it on DVD, what was Hillary Swank thinking ?!
Alistair 2007/05/17 1:11 PM guys haven't even seen it How can you comment unless you've seen the film? Sure you can say, "I have my doubts" or even"I don't like these sorts of films", but how can you call it "drivel" without seeing it first? No-one complains when Sam Raimi makes a third Spider-man movie with EXACTLY the same plot as the first two, oh no, because that's got pretty special effects.
Bjorn 2007/05/17 2:01 PM
Freedom Writers Rocks! This movie is very serious, its not your average Spiderman movie. If you like drama's this one's for you, Hilary rocks in this movie and now again we need movies like this to inspire the youth of today. I take my hat off for movies like this, it's a inspirational and motivational movie.........I give it 4/5 . P.S I have seen this movie!
Me 2007/05/17 2:28 PM
All I hear is ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Every review is the same. With 75 year old reviewers that have said so much in their lives there is nothing left to do but mock a film they could never make in five of their life times. A drama gets a good review but a sci-fi is a joke? We know we have seen it all before but there is nothing we can do. MAke less movies and you will have more content. I personaly want entertainment, eye candy and enough story to hold me for an hour. Nothing more is needed. When movies where new it was all about using your body, dancing, singing and amazing places we cant normaly see. Spiderman 3 with all its bad reviews turned out to be better than the first two in many ways because of its great content. I felt entertained again. Stop complaining or stop watching its simple. You know what most of you dont even get what I'm trying to say so I'm out
me 2007/05/17 2:32 PM
PS I hear all of you complaining about all three spiderman movies being the same but you know even if there are another three that wont change. Peter will always be a cheesy nerd and the plot will always be hero vs villian. Did you people not read the comics? Repeat COMICS! Picture books meant for light reading and entertainment. Sigh really start thinking a little more
Alistair 2007/05/17 2:49 PM
My my, we seem to have touched a nerve So "comics" are light entertainment hey Me? Why don't you try reading a great graphic novel author like Alan Moore ("Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta") or a genius like Neil Gaiman (The Sandman). That's what real "comics" are about. And, just by the way, Spider-man has never been "light". None of the great superheroes have ever been "light".
JeSTER 2007/05/18 12:16 PM
sheesh ting ting ting, in the red corner, coming in at,....c'mon, chillax,....i seen this flick, i'm in UK at the mo, and those back in SA , ya'll probably seen the bootleg, spidey 3 sucked compared to 1 and 2, i enjoyed it, but 1 and 2 was way better,.....there are always going to be remakes with different ups and downs in movies,....and i love it,....i love the reviews, and i love watching movies in same/similar genres, makes one appreciate the better ones, the Godfather, great trilogy, and since that, there been good and really crappy gangster mafia movies,....just the way it goes with hollywood
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