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.
MPAA rating: R for violence.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8. Also on VOD.