Freedom Writers


Directed by: Richard LaGravenese
Written by:Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, April L. Hernandez
Released: March 22, 2007
Grade: B+

Many people will remember Dangerous Minds, the 1995 release which starred Michelle Pfeiffer.  It was the story of a young, white teacher who went into a poverty stricken school and made a difference.  Her multi-racial students lacked both knowledge and discipline but she won them over with her unique teaching style.  She inspired them to study hard and make something of their lives.

The same plot description could be used to describe Freedom Writers.  Instead of Michelle Pfeiffer however, we have two time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don’t Cry).  On seeing the trailer for the first time, I could have sworn I was watching Dangerous Minds 2.

Whilst the plot didn’t offer anything I haven’t seen before, I did enjoy the film’s spirit.  In the last hour, there are some great scenes between Swank (as teacher Erin Gruwell) and her students.  You can feel her passion for wanting to make a difference.  If the film’s job is to inspire others then it does it’s very best to do so.  It has been made with good intentions.

The story is hampered however by its predictability and its use of clichés.  The opening scenes are particularly bad.  Erin struggles to connect with her students and her naivety is over done.  So too were the performances from the other teachers in the school who criticise Erin’s methods.  They come off looking worse than the devil.  Was the real story this black and white?

Patrick Dempsey plays the husband and Scott Glenn plays the father.  They may be high profile actors but their characters are surprisingly kept in the background.  They pop into the story every now and again and then fade away with little fuss.  It’s strange because I think their stories are more interesting than some of the students.

Director Richard LaGravenese has had a successful script-writing career having adapted such books as A Little Princess, The Bridges Of Madison County and The Horse WhispererFreedom Writers is another of his adaptations but this time around, LaGravenese gets to sit in the director’s chair.  He effectively uses rap music to set the tone and please younger audiences.

Given the time frame between Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers, I’d estimate that we’ll see another similar film in about ten years.  With the lack of original ideas coming out of Hollywood, it may even be sooner.