Freedom Writers is based upon The Freedom Writers Diary; a book written by teacher Erin Gruwell and her students. I’ll admit that initially I was quite mixed about what to expect from this film; on one hand I just didn’t want to sit through another one of these To Sir with Love, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds type movies, but on the other hand I hoped it would be different and live up to some of the rave reviews I have read. Well, let’s find out.
Instead of giving a lengthy sy…opsis I will spell this one out simply. Erin Gruwell (Hillary Swank) is white teacher who is new to a predominantly black high school. The kids are your typical Long Beach gang bangers and she goes to great lengths for them to see their potential. From taking on a second job for money to spend on the class too distancing her relationship with her husband Scott (Patrick Dempsey), Gruwell will stop at nothing to overcome the doubting student and fellow staff who believe she is just overly optimistic, guess how this one is going to end folks.
This has to be one of the most over rated movies I have ever seen. Ever since it came out all I have heard about is how moving it is, how it made viewers shed a tear. Besides the fact that this kind of movie has been done to death (Coach Carter, Finding Forester) there were several other reasons why this movie just isn’t worth anyone’s time. I’ll get into those as I continue. I for one am sick of the Hollywood portrayal of urban life consisting of nothing but violence, drugs, and vices, writing in a journal didn’t make these kids better people, it was already inside them; save the praises for the heroic teacher. Even though this is based upon real events, this movie really went about it in the wrong way; typical run down school, gunshots at night, mid movie montage consisting of the gang bangers and the angelic students of Erin Gruwell studying hard. I have seen this formula one too many times, back when I first saw Dangerous Minds I thought it was original and motivating, but since then I have seen this same type of movie a hundred times.
Really, this movie is full of educational film clichés; it lays things on real thick and is in its own right very stereotypical. There will be those of you who would argue that this is a true story and therefore my complaints are redundant, but I remind you that there is quite a difference between the real story and the Hollywood version; I for one have done my research. I won’t justify my comments in regard to the real happenings because this is a review of the movie, which is really over dramatic and pushes too hard for sympathy.
The performances weren’t extraordinary but they were however all around solid. I didn’t particularly think anyone performed exceptionally; in fact I was more critical of Hillary Swank’s performance which was pretty dismal. Nothing against her as an actress, but I really didn’t see her in this role and I think it should definitely have been cast differently. If I were to commend anyone it would be Patrick Dempsey in his short but memorable role.
One thing specific to the characters I didn’t like was the fact that we only saw what Gruwell and her students did during their time together. I would have liked to know why she never spoke about her other students in the other five or six periods of the day. Also I was curious how the students would have acted for their other teachers, did they become more tolerant as time went on in their other classes? This movie left me wanting a lot more, and maybe if it strayed from the formulistic path it set out on it would have been a lot better. But it is what it is, and if you like stories about overly optimistic and chipper teachers going into an urban, gang warfare environment and spreading her beliefs into the minds of teenagers, you just might like this movie. I know there are a lot of people who will absolutely love this movie and be inspired by it, that’s a good thing at least you took something from this movie. Me on the other hand, I had trouble sitting through it and I know there will be those of you who agree with me, and are tired of this formula. Personally I wouldn’t recommend this movie too anyone, even if you think it sounds appealing it’s really not in the end. Everyone has a sad story; everyone has obstacles to overcome, what makes this one so special, I’ve seen it a hundred times.
Presented in 1080p 1.85:1 aspect ratio and encoded in MPEG-4 Freedom Writers looks fabulous in this HD DVD release from Paramount. Color use was fantastic, from the sharp rich colors seen on clothing to the realistic looking flesh tones, everything here was done great. Detail and depth were just as impressive, wrinkles were apparent on close up shots with no visible softness and the film did have a nice 3D look to it, never looking flat. The print itself was in perfect condition with no grain or artifacts shown, even in low lit scenes. As far as complaints go the only thing preventing Freedom Writers from getting a perfect video score was the consistency of the contrast. At times flesh tones looked too enhanced as did some of the outdoor and in class scenes; luckily these faults have minimal screen time and don’t take away from an otherwise perfect transfer. Having seen the DVD version it is safe to say the HD DVD looks vastly superior in every way, definitely one of the best looking transfers from Paramount.
Paramount has included its usual Dolby Digital Plus track for this HD DVD release and it does a good job presenting the films heavy dialogue track. As expected with a dialogue driven film Freedom Writers uses the front channels for most of the film. Surprisingly the track does not sound flat, with dialogue sounding crisp and deep. Ambient effects coming from the rear channels further help this, both mix very well with each other creating surprising depth. The predominantly ‘street’ music flowed nicely through all speakers, for example Montel Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’ sounded rather impressive utilizing as I mentioned all speakers and the sub quite nicely as well. Slight balancing issues I found in the DVD version seemed to have been less apparent in this release, which is a nice improvement. Overall I was impressed and surprised on how well this movie sounded.
All the special features from the DVD release make their way on to this release. There aren’t a whole bunch of them but what they include is pretty informative for fans of the movie wanting to learn more about certain aspects of the production from the soundtrack to the casts opinions on the movie.
- Audio Commentary -Audio Commentary by Director Richard LaGravenesse and Hilary Swank.
- Deleted Scenes – 11 minutes of deleted scenes, some sort of sequences you experienced in the movie, more classroom experiences etc.
- Making ‘A Dream’ – 5 ½ minutes discussing the music behind the movie including interviews with Common and Will I.AM.
- Freedom Writers Family– 19 ½ minutes talking about the early script, production, and interviews with the cast including Hilary Swank.
- Freedom Writers: the story behind the story– a 10 minute look into the story behind the story, basically some of the events that sparked violence in Long Beach during the early 90’s including backlash from the Rodney King incident. As well as more in depth look into the characters as well as the actor’s personal views on what they took away from doing this film.
- Photo Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer – Presented in high definition.
I really didn’t like anything about this movie. That being said, the discs itself is quite impressive. The video transfer is superb and the impressive audio only adds to the great presentation found on the disc. Unfortunately fans looking for more substance may be a bit disappointed with the lack of special features found on the disc. Ultimately though this is a good purchase for fans of the movie.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank
- Deleted Scenes
- Making ‘A Dream’
- Freedom Writers Family
- The Story Behind The Story
- Photo Gallery