Review: 'Freedom' is too corny, amateurish
'Freedom" is the perfect movie for a fourth-grade Bible study group examining the history of American slavery.
Unfortunately, that's about all it's perfect for. It sure isn't worth the price of a ticket at a movie theater. The preaching is earnest and the intentions are good, but the corn is high and the presentation is amateurish.
The film follows two stories. In one, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Samuel, a slave fleeing a Virginia plantation with his family in tow, hoping to follow the Underground Railroad to Canada. Samuel is a cynical sort, always grumbling about how there's no God. And so, along the way, his ailing, aged mother (Phyllis Bash) tells him a story you've got to figure he's heard about a million times already, but it was an easy way to incorporate it into the screenplay.
That would be the story of John Newton (Bernhard Forcher), the fellow who would eventually write "Amazing Grace." He apparently sailed a freight ship to Africa and loaded it up with slaves, including a young boy who would become Samuel's great-grandfather.
On the dangerous voyage he bonded with the boy and other slaves, became appalled at what he was doing (though not so appalled that he pulled over at some island and let everybody go), and eventually, on a stormy night when it seemed the ship might sink, found God.
Samuel's ailing, aged mother tells this tale as Samuel and friends are being hunted by a hired gun (William Sadler) and hiding in Quakers' houses and sneaking onto trains and such. Yet, despite the inspirational story, Samuel still resists belief.
Oddly enough, "Freedom" is something of a musical. People are apt to break into gospel songs or sweet hymns at any given moment. The better to mimic a church experience, apparently.
And that's what "Freedom" is — a church experience, not a cinematic experience. It tells two simplistic stories of spiritual redemption tied to American slavery. It targets a specific, likely already converted audience and may play very well for them. For the rest, not so much.
Rated R for some violence
Running time: 98 minutes