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Running Time:
2 hours, 3 minutes

Rating: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.

Rating Explanation:
for violent content, some thematic material and language

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
A formulaic, but inspirational drama with another fine performance by Hilary Swank.

Additional Info:
DVD Features: Commentary by director Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank; Deleted scenes; Making "a Dream"; Freedom Writers Family; Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story; Photo gallery; Theatrical trailer.

Freedom Writers
The film is based on a true story that took place in Los Angeles shortly after the riots. Hilary Swank ("Million Dollar Baby") plays Erin Gruwell, a young teacher who gets a teaching position at an integrated school in Long Beach where the students are a mixture of whites, blacks, Cambodians, and Latinos. She believes the way to stop racial hatred is to influence young minds, but her lofty goals are not shared by her department head, Margaret Campbell (Imelda Staunton), her ex-activist father (Scott Glenn), or her neglected husband, Scott (Patrick Dempsey). Her first few days in class are a rude awakening, but a discussion about Hitler and the Holocaust gives her an idea and she finds ways to compare Hitler's actions against the Jews to similar instances of gang violence in their neighborhoods. Although it may seem to be a stretch, she's able to make her students comprehend the similarities; including the hardcore Eva (April Lee Hernandez) and the closed-off Andre (Mario). So she hands out composition books and has her class write daily entries.

In 1999, those "assignments" were actually published as The Freedom Writers Diary, which became the basis for the script by writer/director Richard LaGravenese (whose previous screenplays include The Fisher King and The Bridges of Madison County). There have been similar movies on the subject like "Dangerous Minds," but this one is a little different. It also introduces some amazing new actors the most outstanding of whom is April Lee Hernandez, who got most of her earlier experience on the TV series "ER". Also outstanding are Jason Finn as a young man living on the street, Grammy-nominated Mario as a teen coping with his brother's problems in the legal system, Hunter Parrish as an ostracized white student and Jaclyn Ngan as a Cambodian survivor of a refugee camp.

Hilary Swank smiles her way through the first half of the film but develops a harder edge when it becomes necessary. Patrick Dempsey (TV's "Grey's Anatomy") and Scott Glenn ("The Right Stuff") have little to do but add name value to the credits and the excellent Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake") has little opportunity to show what a fine actress she is.

Freedom Writers delivers the expected messages about hope and the ability to change one's destiny, and does it in a manner that it is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. It isn't a great movie, and although it may seem like you've seen it all before, it is still memorable.

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