Ham­pered by a forced setup

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - — Martin Tsai “Free­dom.” MPAA rat­ing: R for vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 35 min­utes. Play­ing: AMC Bur­bank Town Cen­ter 8. Also on VOD.

The new film “Free­dom” cross­cuts be­tween “Amaz­ing Grace” com­poser Capt. John New­ton’s maiden voy­age com­mand­ing a slave ship bound for Amer­ica and four slaves’ jour­ney more than a cen­tury later along the un­der­ground rail­road.

As they trek from the Mon­roe Plan­ta­tion in Rich­mond, Va., to­ward Canada while at­tempt­ing to evade cap­ture by slave hun­ters, Adira (Phyl­lis Bash) passes down to Sa­muel (Cuba Good­ing Jr.) the tale of his grand­fa­ther’s shack­led jour­ney aboard the ship of New­ton (Bern­hard Forcher).

There’s noth­ing that con­nects the nar­ra­tives other than the shared slav­ery nexus and the char­ac­ters’ lin­eage. Screen­writer Ti­mothy A. Chey’s forced par­al­lel also cuts short New­ton’s tale — his once-was-lost-but-now- am-found re­al­iza­tion late in life that led him to re­nounce his slave-trad­ing past and be­come an abo­li­tion­ist. That’s some­thing Michael Apted il­lus­trated with his far wor­thier biopic, “Amaz­ing Grace.”

The un­der­ground rail­road is of his­tor­i­cal im­port and rife with po­ten­tial for sus­pense and drama, but direc­tor Peter Cousens makes it seem triv­ial. We get too lit­tle char­ac­ter devel­op­ment to be in­vested in the story and barely a glimpse at the hor­rific plight of en­slaved peo­ple. The film leaves us with the im­pres­sion that slaves’ sur­vival had more to do with sheer luck than dogged re­silience.

ARC En­ter tain­ment

“FREE­DOM” tells par­al­lel sto­ries of a slave ship that is bound for Amer­ica and the jour­ney of four slaves along the un­der­ground rail­road a cen­tury later.

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