Swank’s ‘Freedom’ Uplifts Dangerous Minds

Playing an English teacher who uses the rhymes of rapper Tupac Shakur to teach kids to keep their heads up, Hillary Swank can finally claim to have street credit.
Set at Wilson High School in Long Beach during the tumultuous time after the Los Angeles riots, ‘Freedom Writers’ takes place in a city made out to be worse than the worst streets of Compton. The racial battles make the city’s harshness somewhat believable, but it can still be difficult to believe when you’ve never experienced it for yourself.
Swank embraces her role as a high-school teacher and makes it her own. It’s hard to top an Oscar-winning performance from last year’s ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ but she puts in a valiant effort. ‘Freedom Writers’ has the same producers as ‘Erin Brockovich’ and Swank’s character, Erin, has that same don’t-take-no-for-an answer attitude.
At times the story is hard to believe, and the director uses some pretty heavy-handed techniques to drive the message home. The respect Swank gains from her students comes rather quickly after what seems to be a single day in class. It really isn’t as easy as the movie makes it seem to get kids who hate each other to suddenly love each other.
Initially, ‘Freedom Writers’ may look like ‘Dangerous Minds 2.’ We’ve all heard the story before: a new teacher looking to make an impact on his or her new students must learn to gain acceptance in an environment in which they are unfamiliar. Along the way the students laugh and shed tears, but in the end they become a close-knit group, overcoming the odds.
However, the sappy ending sets this movie apart from ‘Dangerous Minds.’ ‘Freedom Writers’ differs significantly from cinematic tragedies with the same theme. Instead of having the kids revert to their old ways and kill themselves or each other, they all seem to succeed by staying out of trouble.
The soundtrack does a great job of setting the movie’s tone. There is no big hit like ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ (and surprisingly no songs from R&B singer Mario who appears in the film), but plenty of old 1990s hits like ‘Keep Ya Head Up,’ ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ and ‘This Is How We Do It’ keep things moving. The main song, ‘Dream,’ performed by Common and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, features sound bites of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
With its positive message and optimistic tone, ‘Freedom Writers’ is an inspiring story. For those who haven’t seen a movie like this before, it is probably enjoyable. The others might just kick themselves for watching a movie they’d already seen years ago.
Rating: 3.5/5