Tuesday, February 7, 2012

100 Movies - No. 40: Freedom Writers

40. Freedom Writers (2007)
Drama, Biography, Crime, 123 minutes
Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Hilary Swank, Imelda Stanton and April L. Hernandez

I would imagine that Freedom Writers will be considered an unusual choice for a list of movies that you must see. The title makes the movie sound boring. How can you make the act of writing something worth filming? Don't worry, you won't have to watch two hours of people writing. This story is based on Erin Gruwell, who helped establish a new way of teaching.

If you somehow trust my opinion enough to give this movie a try, there's still a chance that you won't make it past 30 minutes. The movie seems extremely predictable and covers well-trodden ground in that time, but it blossoms into something worth your time if you stick with it. Like Lord of the Rings, it's not what they achieve, but the journey itself that is interesting and important.

The movie starts with a rookie teacher, Erin Gruwell (Swank), arriving at a "problem school" in Long Beach, CA. She's wide-eyed with optimism and thinks that she can change the world, despite what her seasoned colleagues tell her. The harsh reality soon sets in, but Gruwell is tougher than she looks. You can see where this is going, can't you? Gruwell somehow persuades the students to use their ability and everything works out well for everybody.

It doesn't matter that you know she will succeed.

Gruwell tries all kinds of ways to capture the attention of the students. Will they respond to rap music? What about books that detail the story of someone in a gang? Her first problem is to break down the boundaries in her own classroom. Students divide into four ethnic groups and hate each other. They think that Gruwell, who is white, doesn't automatically deserve their respect just because she's a teacher. They are right. If you have been continually disappointed by people in your life, will you assume that the next person will be any different? It takes time for trust to develop.

I love watching Gruwell break down their resistance so that they can start to live up to their potential. She takes the students on a couple of trips which provide some of the most emotional scenes in the movie. The price of these successes come at a high personal cost as the relationships outside her job are threatened by her drive to succeed.

The actors playing the students were largely unknown at the time, but many turn in convincing performances. Some of the revelations are shocking, some sad, and others heartwarming. What Gruwell eventually achieved puts most people to shame.

Seriously, trust me on this one. Ignore the title and don't judge the movie based on the first 30 minutes. This is an important story which deserves to be heard. It should be shown in schools.

If you like Freedom Writers:

Hilary Swank turns in a wonderful performance in Freedom Writers. You can also see her at her best in Clint Eastwood's brutally honest Million Dollar Baby. If you enjoy seeing movies about teaching methods, take a look at Dead Poets Society.

Click here for a full review of Freedom Writers.

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  1. Great review. In a few paragraphs, you perfectly summarize what's good abut Freedom Writers.

  2. Thanks Fernando,

    I wonder how many people have actually seen it?

    I'm doing what I can to promote it. There is a longer review, but most people like the shorter stuff. I tend to drone on and on when I really like something.