The formula of inner city students changed by the work of a crusading teacher continues in Richard LaGravenese's Freedom Writers.
Starring Hilary Swank (The Black Dahlia), this message picture caresses the essential elements of films like Dangerous Minds of dealing with "unteachables."
Swank portrays real-life Erin Gruwell seen first in pearl neckless and polka dot dress whose motivation is to find a way to bring down racial loathing not long after the LA riots. The English teacher gets her chance in Long Beach's Wilson High School in a class with caucasians, blacks, Cambodians, and Latinos.
Erin has a neglected husband, blandly played by Patrick Dempsey, and her former activist father is played by Scott Glenn. Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) is the department head who doesn't see eye to eye with Erin's high aspirations.
In an English class, a heated discussion that brings up the Holocaust draws a connection to students like Eva (April Lee Hernandez) and the isolated Andre (Mario). Erin gives her students composition books, asking them to make daily entries with those 1999 assignments published as "The Freedom Writers Diary" which LaGravenese's screenplay is based on.
The heart of the movie is in the effect of the teacher-student relationships with the comparison of gang violence to the atrocities against the Jews. The film seems to hit a climax with the appearance of Miep Gies who hid Anne Frank from the Nazis and the direction seems disorganized at times in trying to give emotional credence and resonance while emphasizing the storyline.
There's hope about affecting one's life and Swank is up to the challenge though it feels mostly Hollywood, especially when it comes to a necklace. The voiceovers have much effect and Hernandez is an actress to watch.