You know how you should never judge a book by its cover? The same applies to movies and their trailers. From the previews, Freedom Writers looks like yet another flick about students-turned-“gangstas in da hood” who excel and reach their true potential thanks to an inspiring teacher. Yet, despite seemingly following the same template as the lackluster Dangerous Minds, this film, starring Oscar-winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), actually has some heart and soul to it.
After the Rodney King incident, racial tension in Los Angeles is at an all-time high making high-school a very crappy place to be. In one such high-school, the students of Room 203 have divided themselves into gangs because of the color of their skin. All hope for their future seems lost to violence and death—until the idealistic Erin Gruwell (Swank) enters their lives as their English teacher.
Directed and written by Richard LaGravense (Living Out Loud), and based on the book by the real-life Freedom Writers, this film displays tons more depth than many other shows about kids escaping from gang-life. Focusing less on the actual violence and more on how it affects the students, the film works well to drive the message home without sounding too preachy.
Oddly enough, Swank doesn’t steal the show. In fact, her performance here was probably one of our least favorites, coming off as a bit whiny and annoying at times. Instead, it’s the students who really shine, particularly April Lee Hernandez (TV’s ER) as Eva, the de facto lead of the show. Displaying an emotional depth that puts Swank to shame, Hernandez practically carries the show herself.
Turning out to be better than most movies in this genre have the right to be, Freedom Writers is worth catching.
You’ll dig Freedom Writers, if you like: all those other inspiring teacher stories like Good Will Hunting and Finding Forester.