I was asked to watch and review Freetown to help promote its DVD release. Let me first tell you about the movie and then I'll tell you my thoughts about it. To make things even better, Three Coin Productions and Deseret Book are giving away a copy of the DVD to one lucky winner! So be sure to enter at the bottom of the post.
Monrovia, Liberia, 1990: A rebel army has taken over the city. Six missionaries, determined to maintain their proselyting efforts, continue to share their message of hope despite the conflict that surrounds them. But after months of escalating violence, the missionaries, led by Elder Menti (Michael Attram), turn to local church member Phillip Abubakar (Henry Adofo) to help them flee the country. Their destination: Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Reaching Freetown will not be easy. The airport has shut down, power and water have been shut off, and food and fuel are scarce. Menti, together with the other missionaries in the district, convince Abubakar to pack the missionaries into an old Toyota Corolla, and get as far as they can. A few of the obstacles facing the fleeing missionaries include a 30-plus hour trip over muddy, uneven dirt roads, hardly any food and limited fuel. Additionally, they must make their way through seemingly endless rebel checkpoints where the unpredictable rebels are determined to find and eliminate members of the Krahn tribe, one of which is travelling with the missionaries.
My review: This movie was written and directed by Garrett Batty (The Saratov Approach) and produced by Adam Abel (Saints and Soldiers), both movies that I'm a fan of. I had high expectations from them, and I wasn't disappointed.
I'll begin with the cinematography, which was incredible. They filmed on location in Ghana, using a mostly Ghanian crew (including the actors), and it shows. I think only natives could have shown such love for the beauty of their country while also showing the poverty that rules much of West Africa. With the added layer of the rebel soldiers, it's impossible not to become immersed in the scenery and feel like you're right there beside the missionaries as they try to get to safety. I think it's fantastic that they shot this with natural light, the brightness of the sun a stark contrast to the darkness of war and horror that surrounds them. It makes the violence feel that much more real.
The music was also really great, feeling so organic to the setting and situations that it's almost unnoticeable, which to me is the indication of a composer who knows what he's doing.
The fact that these seven men reached Freetown in such an old car, passing through the roads and checkpoints required, with barely enough food and water to sustain them is a miracle. The movie only shows them passing a few checkpoints when in reality they had to pass over 50 of them. One of the best things about this movie is that they don't feel the need to shove it down your throat that you're watching these miracles, they just organically let them happen and believe you're smart enough to figure it out on your own.
The movie has enough positivity and humor to keep it from feeling to depressing. At one of the checkpoints, when it didn't seem they'd be allowed to pass, one of the missionaries begins preaching and they're quickly waved through as the guard doesn't want to listen to it. The missionary's knowing smile as they pass is golden.
At one point one missionary is explaining to another that he should be brave and lie about who he is in order to not be shot. The other says, "Is it brave just to try to live?" For me, I'd probably say "Yes!" but for this missionary it felt like the lie would be the bigger burden, so he tells the truth. I won't tell you what happens when he does, but suffice it to say I was shamed by my immediate response.
I highly recommend a viewing of this movie. The events happened 25 years ago, but nothing that happened feels dated. It could be happening right this minute somewhere else in the world, and to me, that's as current as it gets.
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