Saturday, January 17, 2009

Freedom Writers

2007, US, directed by Richard LaGravenese

Freedom Writers returns to the picked-over territory of the teacher-in-the-'hood but adds a layer of authenticity that's missing from more cynical productions like the Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle Dangerous Minds by giving voice to the students at the heart of the film. Thus, the film, based on an actual series of events, occasionally follow those students home rather than focusing exclusively on their middle-class teacher (Hilary Swank), but it also, more importantly, allows us to hear them in their own words, quoting extensively from the journals that provide the film with its title.

As naive as the film is in terms of how it presents possible solutions to inner-city traumas, there's something oddly refreshing about how resolutely it wears its belief in human nature on its sleeve, and how it insists on the possibility of redemption and triumph. It's also notable, in a minor key, for being willing to admit that the average saint (whether teacher or liberator) might not be a picnic at home - Swank's character isn't so much a burden as completely oblivious to the impact of her own choices, something that's perhaps more insidious. The film might, though, have profited from a little more focus on that home life, which is telescoped into the occasional scene (the texture of domestic life was surprisingly rounded element of the subsequent LaGravenese/Swank collaboration P.S. I Love You).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States