Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Number of discs: 1 Rating: PG-13 Studio: Paramount Home Video DVD Release Date: April 17, 2007 Run Time: 102 minutes A powerful and moving story of a teacher whose tireless efforts to advance a segment of students that society and the schools have given up on, “Freedom Writers” is a capable, if familiar, drama that features a myriad of complex characters and a satisfying narrative arc. Starring Hillary Swank as first-time pedagogue Erin Gruwell, an idealistic woman who has yet to be spoiled by the system, and Patrick Dempsey as her selfish husband Scott, the true stars of this film are the young actors and actresses who populate her first class. Relative unknowns like the single-named singer Mario, Jason Finn, and April Hernandez give the film a sense of veracity because they are actually high-school aged. And, as a bonus, they play their parts pitch-perfect. What would seem a clichéd and trite story is balanced by some hard truths; not everyone in the class makes it to the end of the story, despite the best intentions and efforts of the teacher. But those who make it through the program have doors opened to them that they never otherwise could have imagined. We dream along with a group that, when we first meet them, we were ready to write off. The reversal comes from the way the movie makes us care about these kids. It’s more than “Whitey comes to save the minorities:” it’s more like a dialectical process wherein both experience a growth and change, ending up in a new (and better) place. About the only negative note I can press is the presentation of the story’s antagonist, the head of the English department, played by Imelda Staunton. Her Margaret Campbell does everything but cackle maniacally and steeple her fingers at the thought of making the students suffer. I understand the motivation; a teacher who is skating along in a district where her spirit has been broken by generations of students who simply don’t care about learning, and who does not want to try anything different. But playing her as downright evil is a little over the top. It is a minor quibble, to be sure, but one that is still worth mentioning. I have been raving about this movie to just about anyone who will listen. As a teacher, I am always impressed by those who can think outside the traditional box and reach students who are disinterested or downright hostile to the material. The fact that this is a true story makes it all the better. To be sure, this is not a translation of the book “The Freedom Writers Diaries,” though some of the diary voices are retained. Instead it is a film that tells the story of these kids and their teacher, and it should encourage you to go pick up the book and give it a chance, too. Well-acted, edited at a pace that has few tangents but rarely lulls. Video: This 1.85:1 Anamorphic video transfer is a competent recreation of the theatrical experience. Fine detail is extraordinary, as you can see the textures on the walls and the carvings on the desks. Colors are slightly oversaturated and the darks blend together, but it is not distracting. By and large this track looks good. Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is simply marvelous. The audio tracks are spread out across all channels and have incredible frequency response. The music cues come out with great force and the dialogue is never obscured. Ultimately the audio provides a wonderful, immersive experience. Extras: There is a wealth of extras available on this single-disc set. First and foremost is a commentary from director Richard LaGravenese and actress Hillary Swank, who are very chatty about the production and their experiences creating the film, though Swank is seeing the movie for the first time so she gets lost in watching it far too often. Their anecdotes, when they pop up, are useful. The deleted scenes are by-and-large expansions of existing scenes, or redundant and well-excised. The only one I would have liked included was one where Gruwell’s father experiences institutionalized racism while out with the kids, which would have explained his sudden perspective shift. “Making a Dream” follows the creation of the song “A Dream,” and how Will.i.am and Common put together the film’s theme. Another brief featurette, “Freedom Writers Family,” tracks the casting and filming of the movie, with reactions from the real Erin Gruwell as to the veracity of the actors in relation to their real counterparts. It doesn’t waste any time, telling the story as expeditiously as possible. “Freedom Writers: The Story Behind The Story” talks about the actual world that the film comes from. A lot of the material herein is repetitive from the previous bit. There are a lot of talking heads in this one, summarizing the story, treating the actors experiences as real. The curse words are edited, leaving me to believe that this was showed on TV somewhere. We never get to meet any of the actual Freedom Writers, which is the only deficit in this set. The film’s theatrical trailer is included along with advertisements for various other upcoming Paramount DVD products like Dreamgirls, and a photo gallery of stills from the film and its production. Overall: Easily placed in the pantheon of similar films such as “Stand and Deliver” or “Stand By Me” or even “Dangerous Minds,” “Freedom Writers” is a wonderful story, well-made. Entertaining and emotionally-charged, the film is powerful and fascinating.