An inspiring story featuring inspired performances.
This movie feels a little too familiar.
In Freedom Writers Hilary Swank plays Erin Gruwell. A teacher with good intentions who begins teaching a class of "untouchable" kids. Some of them have been involved in gangs, some of them have lost family to gangs, others have done drugs, the list goes on and on. Erin has her work cut out for her and she's not getting any help from the administration at her school. Making things even tougher is that is that her husband (Patrick Dempsey) is beginning to grow weary of all the time Erin spends trying to reach her students. After convincing them that all whites are not bad people, she gives them books to read like The Diary of Anne Frank, takes them on field trips to the Museum of Tolerance, and little by little makes these kids care about themselves and their futures. She also has them turn in journals which, to her surprise, they unload all their feelings about their social and societal environments. In the end Erin seems to learn just as much about herself as her students do.
Ultimately, Freedom Writers is a tale of the depths certain teachers have gone in an effort to show they care, their students care, and that the powers that be should care about them as well.
Sadly, this track, which features the voices of Director Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank was given to a few too many long moments where they didn't say anything. Aside from that, these two spend the majority of this commentary track talking about the real people being portrayed in the movie. They also tell us what we are seeing on the screen (this gets old quick), how the script was worked on to accommodate the ensemble of actors, and how the actors in the film came to be cast. There's nothing too special about what Swank and LaGravenese have to say here, but if you are big fan of the film or these two people, I am sure you will find this commentary worth your time.
Edited in one chunk, these deleted scenes are of very good quality. As you can probably guess, a lot of the scenes are of Erin with her students. As I was watching the film, I got the feeling that Richard LaGravenese let Swank and the other actors do a decent amount of improvising so that there was fluidity to the performances. I have a feeling that these scenes were taken out of the film because the movie on this DVD was over two hours already.
The following featurettes make up this section of the DVD:
- Making 'A Dream'
- Freedom Writers Family
- Freedom Writers : The Story Behind the Story
I have grouped these together because that is precisely how they should have been edited. Why they are broken up is anybody's guess but that seems to be the way the creators of this DVD wanted it. Throughout these featurettes we continuously find out how close this cast became, how the movie came together and how the writers of this film got involved with it. Other things like Freedom Writers : The Story Behind the Story goes more in-depth with the real Erin Gruwell. We also hear how much this story resonated with "recording star" Mario, and the the theme of tolerance is often bandied about here. For whatever it's worth, I think a lot time could be saved if one were to simply just watch one of these featurettes instead of all three.
Widescreen. This movie looked really clean in it's transfer from film to DVD. There isn't any special editing or amazing camera tricks going on, so from a visual standpoint this movie plays pretty tepid. However, it is very clean. I noticed no hits on the print, no dirt, and no points where the exterior's looked grainy compared to the interior shots. All in all, Paramount has done a fine job bringing this movie to DVD.
Dolby Digital: English 5.1 Surround - English 2.0 Surround - French 5.1 Surround - English Subtitles. The audio on this DVD was good but the only thing that bothered me was the soundtrack. I wished that the music hadn't felt so current. At times, I thought this story was undercut by the audio sounding too much like they were trying to tie a soundtrack to the film. Aside from that, this movie sounded fine and there were no points where the sound dropped out and things sounded muddy or distorted.
Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey get the biggest pictures on this front cover. Below them are shots of the core Freedom Writers cast. The back cover features three shots from this movie, a well written description of what this film is about, a Special Features listing, a cast list and technical specs. For the kind of movie that Freedom Writers is, this packaging is perfect.
While on the surface this movie has all the ingredients of Oscar Bait, it seemed to be passed over this year in favor other films that maybe weren't so obvious. In fact, it is that obviousness that made me not see Freedom Writers when it played theatrically. What surprised me the most was how engaged I became in this story. Yes, I knew that it would start off and that Erin Gruwell would be timid in the eyes of her menacing students. I also knew that she would have many false starts before her kids started to show some progress. What I didn't know was the levels both personally and financially that she would go to in order to help her kids. That anybody would do what she did, not even on their own time, but on their own dime, is truly the work of a missionary.
I don't think that Freedom Writers is the best film I have seen on this subject. I would venture that in many ways Stand and Deliver is a much better movie. Even School of Rock seemed fresher in it's approach to how Jack Black worked with kids. However, if you are fan of these uplifting tales, where not everything gets all wrapped up nice and neat at the end, I am sure you will find something to inspire you about Freedom Writers.
Freedom Writers was released January 5, 2007.