Paramount Home Video presents
Freedom Writers (2007)
"I think the real fighting should happen here in the classroom."- Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank)
Stars: Hilary Swank
Other Stars: Scott Glenn, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, Mario, April Lee Hernandez, Hunter Parrish
Director: Richard Lagravenese
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (violent content, some thematic material and language)
Run Time: 02h:02m:48s
Release Date: 2007-04-17
DVD ReviewOK, stop me if you've heard this one before: A high class, young, caucasian teacher heads to an inner city school to impart his/her wisdom on a collection of malcontents. Films like Dangerous Minds and countless others have borrowed that same basic plot structure and unintentionally ushered in a new subgenre. The latest of these familiar films, Freedom Writers, hit theaters in early 2007. Banking on recent Oscar winner Hilary Swank, the latest directing effort from renowned screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (Beloved, The Bridges of Madison County) is a nice surprise.
Based on the 1999 book The Freedom Writers Diary, this film chronicles the first teaching year of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), who jumps right into the fire at Woodrow Wilson High School in Southern California. Her students know the dangers of the streets first-hand, and it becomes Erin's personal mission to teach them more than how to use a hand gun. Erin doesn't have much of a support system, as her father, Steve (Scott Glenn) and husband, Scott (Patrick Dempsey) are against her career path. Once she finally connects with a handful of kids after introducing them to the horrors of the Holocaust, Erin is on her way to changing their lives, as well as her own, forever.
Despite the subgenre's inherent clichés, there's something about this school story that sets it apart from the rest. Some snappy editing keeps things moving at a brisk pace, which is a major plus, given the two-hour-plus running time. This is straight-forward material that could have dragged on and on, but there aren't many scenes that meander. There's a defining scene that involves a Hispanic student who even the rest of the students fail to recognize, despite his long-time presence in their class. He reads an entry from his diary that is so sad and touching that I wanted to join in the eventual group hug. We really don't see this scene coming at all, and it's to director LaGravenese's credit that he would use such a bold tactic so effectively.
The casting is questionable at times, but Swank does a fine job with a strong character that's based on a real-life hero. This isn't Oscar-caliber work, but such a performance isn't called for here, so kudos to Swank for adapting her style to fit the project. "McDreamy" himself, Patrick Dempsey is surprisingly ineffective as Swank's sad sack husband. I never understood what all the fuss was about regarding Dempsey's presence on Grey's Anatomy, and this performance is more reminiscent of his Ronald from Can't Buy Me Love than his recent TV work. The main cast of students is wonderful, though, including April Lee Hernandez as Eva, R&B artist Mario as Andre, and Weeds' Hunter Parrish as Ben. Also strong are Oscar-nominee Imelda Staunton as a rival school faculty member and the aforementioned Scott Glenn.
The elongated lesson about the Holocaust at the center of Erin's curriculum seems a bit out of place, but it is a compelling subject, making it easier to believe in the students' drastic attitude adjustment. Still, as the second half progresses and the students meet a surviving central figure in the Anne Frank story, our heart strings continue to be tugged at, despite a bit too many "messages" about how to be a good person. I feared the worst going in, but I was left sitting next to a box of tissues. For a potential cliché-fest such as this, keeping the audience's emotions high is all the victory it needs.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is very impressive, but anything less from an early 2007 theatrical release would be extremely disappointing. Everything is sharp and richly detailed throughout, with bright, lush colors dominating the presentation. Brightness and contrast levels are consistent, while dirt, grain, and other potential flaws stay away.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is rich with early '90s rap and R&B and sounds fantastic. The track utilizes the surrounds quite a bit, and some tight, aggressive bass works its way into the proceedings liberally. Much of the movie is dialogue-driven, and the actors' speech is always clear and crisp.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Dreamgirls, Norbit
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Richard Lagravenese and actor Hilary Swank.
Packaging: Keep Case
- Photo Gallery
Next up are four deleted scenes that last a total of 11 minutes. They vary in relevance, but there is an interesting sequence between Erin and Eva.
Making a Dream is a five-minute featurette that focuses on the film's music via interviews with recording artists Common and will.i.am, who contributed songs. Freedom Writers Family runs just over 19 minutes and takes an extensive look at the shoot. We get a ton of on-set footage here, but there are also cast and crew interviews, as well as interaction with the "real" teacher, Erin Gruwell.
Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story is 10 minutes of more cast and crew interviews, this time focusing on the rough lives of the kids who are featured most prominently in the film.
Finishing things up are the film's theatrical trailer, a collection of Paramount previews, as well as a photo gallery.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsA thoroughly enjoyable, if not entirely original movie, Freedom Writers won't leave a dry eye among its audience members. Hilary Swank gives a moving performance as a school teacher who almost single-handedly saved the lives of troubled Southern California high school students. Paramount's DVD delivers the goods with excellent audio and video, along with a healthy extras collection that give us a long look at the real Erin Gruwell.
Chuck Aliaga 2007-04-17