It's hard not to compare "Freedom Writers" with "Dangerous Minds." The two films share a striking resemblance. If they both had been released within a year of each other, people would probably be a bit hesitant to see one or the other. Thankfully we have had a nice break from "Dangerous Minds" and are ready to see some more students needing help.
This film is based on a true story of a class that calls themselves the Freedom Writers and a teacher that gives her life to her students. Ms. Erin Gruwell, also called Ms. G (Hillary Swank) by her class, takes on her first teaching job at a school that has transitioned from one of the best schools in the state, to one of the worst. It is now filled kids who are consistently in trouble with the law and have no desire to go to school--they would rather die with their respective gangs than get an education they don't believe gives them a better future. Upper management tells Ms. G that nothing else is expected of her besides just getting her students by. She is to give them second-hand books because there is no budget for them--she is to give them only the basics to learn because they can't be expected to be smart enough--she is to give them no homework because the students won't do it anyways. Despite no one else believing in these kids, she believes they can learn to accept their 'rivals' as friends and how to apply themselves to learning. She knows that they have heart, and if given the appropriate attention that they could do something amazing with their lives because they all have important stories to tell. Fighting an uphill battle to motivate not only these kids, but also the teaching staff, she commits her entire life to helping her students have a better future.
Hillary Swank puts on a powerful performance as a teacher who steps into a class of misfits and criminals, with her only goal to help these students. It comes at the expense of many things in her personal life. We truly believe that she is there for a purpose and her performance is completely heartfelt and honest. You can definitely tell that she has done her research and talked to the actual Erin Gruwell, because once they start shooting, she is Ms G.
Director Richard Lagravenese brings a compelling story of struggling teens to the big screen with ease. He easily sets "Freedom Writers" apart from "Dangerous Minds" and creates a drama that is easy to watch and sucks us into the hearts of Ms. G and her students. With a cast of only a few "known" actors, Lagravenese is able to mold each character to their real life counterpart and allow them to come alive.
Unfortunately, "Freedom Writers" did not receive the attention it deserved. With adequate distance between itself and "Dangerous Minds," it still is that film that is like "Dangerous Minds." But it is much more than that--it is a compelling story that deserves attention. The cast is fantastic with a story that draws you in from the beginning...if you give it a chance that is. Watch it...and let it co-exist with "Dangerous Minds."
We are treated with a fairly decent transfer that struggles at times. The colors are good, with nice skin tones, and an overall warm feeling. Unfortunately the contrast is a little high quite often and we lose detail pretty easily. Grain is present throughout, and we never really see that "pop" that we like to have when it comes to high-def.
With a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, "Freedom Writers" tries to deliver a good overall track but doesn't quite get there. With a film that is mainly dialogue, the two key places to focus are dialogue...and ambient noise in the surrounds. The dialogue is good, at times a little soft, but still audible. The surrounds very rarely get adequate use. It would be nice to have the dialogue, while in the background students are whispering and telling secrets in class. But overall, it is a fairly decent track that gets the job done.
Commentary by Director Richard Lagravenese & Hilary Swank: The best part about this extra is hearing how the "true" story compares to the film. I think I would have enjoyed it much more if we had had a commentary from the real teacher and her thoughts about the students, and the passion behind her teaching. Swank isn't present a lot in this commentary track, but Lagravenese does a very nice job bringing us through details about the characters and their true stories, with some nice input from Swank from time to time.
Deleted Scenes: 4 of them...not really worth a look.
Making a Dream: Just a quick making of "Freedom Writers."
Freedom Writers Family: this is pretty nice to hear how they brought the characters to life and how they resemble their real life counterparts.
Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story: This gives us some background behind who these Freedom Writers were.
**In the last two features, we do see Ms. G (The real one) make an appearance and help us understand the story and the characters.**
"Freedom Writers" is a good flick. It is a definite watch when you have exhausted all of your big loud explosive demo material HD content. If you are in the mood for a compelling drama that takes on real life issues and is not afraid to hit them on the head, then "Freedom Writers" is for you. With a truly incredible story played out by a great cast, "Freedom Writers" is a no-brainer. Unfortunately the audio and video do not give us everything that they could have, but because the story itself is so poignant, this is definitely still worth it for me to Recommend this one.