WHAT'S IT ABOUT? When one of their own is targeted for genocide in a civil war, six African missionaries attempt to flee the country, facing peril (and finding opportunities to serve) along the way. Based on a true story in Liberia, 1990.
IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: A-) As he did with The Saratov Approach, director and co-writer Garrett Batty has crafted a drama about Latter-day Saint missionaries that has mainstream appeal. Batty finds that sweet spot (shared by other great religiously-themed films like Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, and Of Gods and Men) in which his movie doesn't preach or proselytize, but neither does it downplay the role faith plays in the characters' lives.
For a modestly-budgeted independent film, Freetown feels incredibly polished thanks to rich on-location cinematography by Jeremy Prusso and a memorable score by Robert Allen Elliot, both of which bring the African setting to life. Albert Aidoo Bervell's production design deftly captures the look and feel of 1990. The cast of unknown actors inhabit their characters with humanity and genuine emotion.
The screenplay by Batty and Melissa Lailani Larson is earnest without being overbearing. That said, a tighter reign in the editing room could have saved the film some pacing issues (it could stand to lose 15 minutes), and the combination of native accents and an occasionally-imbalanced sound mix makes some of the dialogue difficult to understand. Still, Freetown is a well-made and very moving independent film. Like Ryan Little's Saints and Soldiers movies, it portrays our capacity for kindness, faith, and compassion during times of violence.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Freetown is rated PG-13. Several people are shot in the head just offscreen; no blood is seen, but the audience hears the shots and views the reactions of other characters. Several people are gunned down while they run; this is filmed and edited to leave most of it to the imagination. Rebels harass and threaten innocent people in several intense scenes. There is no foul language, sexuality, or nudity. There is some drinking by militant soldiers. Recommended for teens and up.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Hatred, violence, and revenge lead to an endless cycle. Courage means doing what is right when you are afraid. Helping others should be seen as a privilege, not a burden. At its best, faith inspires us to grow and become better people, leaving mistakes and error behind.
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