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Freedom Writers


Stars: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Imelda Staunton, Mario, Kristin Herrera, Scott Glenn, John Benjamin Hickey, April Lee Hernandez

Director: Richard La Gravenese

Movies about inspirational teachers rarely fail to inspire us too, and this one's no exception. At 23, Erin Gruwell (Swank) gets a seemingly insurmountable assignment at her first job as a teacher: a 14/15-year-old group of 'unteachables' - Latinos, Cambodians, African Americans and other ethnics - who are immersed in gang culture, racial tension and ghetto poverty.

After a shaky start, as she realises the enormity of her task, Erin puts her house in order, getting the kids to relate to their own experiences with the violence of the 'hood, and friends who have died or gone to jail - as well as the kind of music they like and their low expectations.

'Can't see no one with a pocket book (money)' grumbles one, less they're rappin' a lyric or dribblin' a ball.'

'If Erin thinks she can teach these kids, she can,' says her father (Glenn). And so she does - much to the chagrin of department head Margaret (Staunton, with a Yank accent and terrific), her uptight, hidebound superior. Taking two extra jobs, Erin herself funds outings for her warring class, buys such disparate books as a gangsta autobiography and The Diary of Anne Frank, teaches them about the Holocaust and gradually gets them to work and act as a unit. It costs Erin her husband (Dempsey) and a lot of lost sleep.

Swank's a bit too bouncy at times, but you can believe her previously doubting father when he tells her 'You are an amazing teacher'. Elsewhere the film is manipulative but moving. Hankies at the ready all round.

David Quinlan

USA 2006. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour by De Luxe.
123 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 24 Feb 2007