Film Review: Freedom

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Bernhard Forcher, William Sadler. Directed by Peter Cousens.

Last night my church, St Aidan’s Presbyterian Wagga Wagga, hosted the opening night screening of the film Freedom in Wagga. The night was a fundraiser for The Freedom Project, an organisation working to find freedom for women in human trafficking in Bangalore India. The night was a success, almost $3,000 was raised, and the church and others from town embraced and were challenged by the message of the film.

Freedom begins in Virginia in 1856 where Samuel Woodward (Gooding Jr.) and his family are kept as slaves on a plantation. Shown grace by Garrett (Michael Goodwin), they manage to escape one night and head north along the underground railroad to Canada, in the hope of finding true freedom from slavery forever. Along the way, they are chased by the ruthless Plimpton (Sadler). During their journey, the conversion story of John Newton (Forcher), writer of hymn Amazing Grace, is told, the link being that Samuel’s great-grandfather was one of the slaves on Newton’s ship.

Freedom cuts back and forth between the two stories, and much is made of the parallel action. Both Woodward and Newton are doubters who encounter Bible-believing Christians who challenge them with what real freedom is. Freedom opens our eyes to the horrific injustices of the slave trade back then, and reminds us that it is still happening in parts of the world today.

Unfortunately, this story of freedom doesn’t quite hit as hard as recent films like Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave, although these are much more violent. Jumping between the two stories lost momentum – the action in Virginia moves at a quicker pace than on Newton’s ship – and there are lots of songs along the way which just feel out of place. I felt as though Freedom is targeted primarily at a Christian audience, and at points can be quite preachy, and not always in a helpful way.

Throughout the whole film, the question of real freedom is raised over and over again. Although the slaves crave liberation from their chains (and rightly so), the allusions to spiritual freedom are vague. And I was a little disappointed at the way Samuel and Newton find this freedom. We know from history that Newton embraced the gospel, but in Freedom he is more moved by a quote about freedom penned by his love in the front of his Bible.

But God’s word is powerful, and speaks more than often about eternal freedom. The Bible is all about our bondage to sin and Jesus coming to rescue us from it. In our humanity, we too are slaves: to sin and death. But hope and redemption comes through Jesus and his death on the cross. Romans 8:1-2 –

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Through the cross Jesus provides true, everlasting freedom for all who trust in him. Freedom from sin and death, forever. I’m thankful that Freedom encourages us to take a stand against the atrocities in our world today, and raises the question of faith and hope, but it left me wanting more. I’m giving it two-and-a-half out of five stars.

Freedom is in cinemas in Australia and New Zealand now. It will be released in other countries at a later date. Find out more about the film at themoviefreedom.com

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