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Paramount Home Video presents
Freedom Writers HD-DVD (2007)

"Everyone has their own story. We're going to write it in these journals."
- Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 21, 2007

Stars: Hilary Swank
Other Stars: Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, Mario, April Lee Hernandez, Pat Carroll
Director: Richard LaGavanese

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent content, some thematic material and language
Run Time: 02h:02m:50s
Release Date: May 22, 2007
UPC: 097361243801
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A-A B+

DVD Review

Freedom Writers tells the true story of Erin Gruwell (Oscar-winner Hilary Swank), an optimistic and naive young schoolteacher, dropped into the recently-integrated Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California. Unprepared for the gang culture and the rifts between different ethnicities, she struggles to find a way to reach the students and to actually give them an education. She finally wins their trust by having them write daily in a journal, in the process learning about their lives and their innermost thoughts, and allowing them to open up to her. But the process may be too much for her marriage to Scott Casey (Patrick Dempsey), as she becomes more and more absorbed in her students.

Although it could easily have become sappy or preachy, Richard LaGavanese's script manages to steer a course that both keeps the progression of the students realistic, while also keeping the inspirational qualities at the forefront. The technique used is quite intriguing, since the kids are initially portrayed in a shallow manner, so that the audience is inclined to be just as dismissive of Gruwell's students as the rest of the school administration. But we see them humanized and individualized just as she does, allowing us to bond with them as well.

There's a difficult tightrope to present with the school administration and other teachers, to keep them isolated from Gruwell's students, but not to surrender into making them caricatures. At moments fellow teacher Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton) veers close to that line, but in a climactic confrontation over whether Gruwell will be allowed to keep teaching these students into junior year, the facade cracks and we see that part of her anger and dismissiveness is based on her understanding that she has failed these kids, mixed with envy and shame of what Gruwell was able to accomplish through her determination to reach the students.

One wouldn't expect the Holocaust to be something that would reach and unite black, latino, Chinese and Cambodian students, but by making it both relevant and personal, the solution is a natural and organic one. Reading The Diary of Anne Frank is one thing, taking the students to the Wiesenthal Center is another, and arranging a dinner with several Holocaust survivors, and finally, with Miep Gies herself (Pat Carroll), who hid the Franks from the Nazis for several years. It's both true and a symbol of Gruwell's determination to go the extra mile and to make the learning experience something real to her students. It's an impressive feat that brings the effort home.

I've known numerous young women who were dropped into an inner-city classroom with violence, crime and poverty making learning nearly impossible; none of them lasted more than a year. That makes Gruwell's accomplishment even more meaningful to me. As the journals develop (derived from the real journals) and the students lower their guard, their stories are devastatingly moving. The impact is seen in difficult moral choices that need to be made by them, an informal sort of graduation into society. There's not a spare moment here; virtually everything provides a perspective into their lives or Gruwell's, and it's a wholly absorbing tale that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer has vivid detail and excellent color throughout. There is some modest motion artifacting on rapid pans, but otherwise it's a very clean HD transfer that is exceedingly attractive. Shadow detail is good, and grain is hardly visible. Even the dust on the chalkboard is nicely resolved. I didn't note any edge enhancement, macroblocking or other problems.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: There are no problems whatsoever with the audio, presented in 5.1 DD+. The hiphop elements of the score by Will.i.am has plenty of bass impact without being distorted, and the more classical elements of score from Marc Isham are smooth and delicate without being shrill. Dialogue is clear and clean, even in crowded scenes. There aren't many opportunities for anything to be flashy in the audio track other than the musical score, though.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Richard LaGavanese and Hilary Swank
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The director and Hilary Swank contribute a solid commentary that offers plenty of insight into the creative process and development of the script and the rehearsals. They also go into a fair amount of detail regarding the true story behind the film. Four deleted scenes include some great additional elements, and are certainly worth watching. Making a Dream (5m:26s) examines the score, with emphasis on the main theme, which incorporates samples from Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Writers Famil (19m:21s) features the real Erin Gruwell together with Swank, discussing how the situation developed. It as well as Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story (10m:03s) has a lot of EPK fluff as well, with narration of various plot points. The latter featurette also includes bleeped dialogue safe for television. Finally, there's a trailer, which is the only extra presented in HD.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

An apple for the teacher with this beautifully moving story of how a person can make a difference in the lives of the young, keeping them out of hopelessness and spirals of violence. Swank is superb, and the story is powerfully told. Highly recommended.


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