As most of my readership is not Mormon you probably haven’t heard of the film Freetown which opens this week. It is the story of missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) in Liberia in 1990. At the time there was a brutal Civil War and a group called the krahn was systematically eliminated by the rebel forces.
This of course makes for a tense situation for the missionaries some of whom are krahn and it is determined by local leadership they must be taken to Freetown in Sierra Leone where the mission president is and things are safer. There are 6 missionaries and a member named Brother Abubakar played by Henry Adofo.
Abubakar is a man you don’t see often in faith based films. He has a strong faith but he is also extremely practical which makes him less optimistic than some of the naive young elders. Adofo is so good playing a well rounded man who is strong, scared, brave and weak all at the same time. On one hand it seems like he resents having to deal with the elders and put his life at risk but on the other you can tell it is a great honor and burden which he fears he might not succeed in. I really related to his character and can imagine that most members would feel exactly as Brother Abubakar does in such a scary time.
Nevertheless, he crams all 6 of the elders into his small car and they face one challenge after another. Whether its rebel base stops or running out of fuel I was completely engrossed in the journey.
The entire cast is native African actors and they are all fine. Some of the missionaries you can tell are new at acting but it fit their fairly innocent personas and didn’t bother me. As someone who was a missionary I thought they got the little details just right. It might seem hard to believe Elders would pass out pamphlets to people waiting for a fairy after such a trek and in such a tense situation but they totally would. The exuberance and faith in miracles they showed was just what such elders would do in the situation. I loved one of the elders when they are finally free the greatest joy is they can teach after 6 months! That long not teaching as a missionary would feel like an eternity.
Not to say that the elders were simplistic because they weren’t. They face a lot of tough questions of when to lie, when to be brave, when to expect miracles and when to use your head. It felt like the way missionaries would actually behave and there were soft moments especially with the krahn elders that were very touching.
I was surprised how gritty it got. It is not a movie for small children. Far too scary for them. The rebels are pretty terrifying and will shoot women, even old women without giving it much thought. I flinched more than once and had to look away (I’m a violence wimp in movies!). The missionaries come very close to being shot on several occasions and it is very tense.
It also can be a very hopeful picture with moments of joy. The missionaries are still 19 year old boys and the cast has a good chemistry together. It felt like an authentic group racing to get to safety while still maintaining their individual personalities and struggles.
Freetown is directed and written by Garrett Batty who did Saints and Soldiers and Saratov Approach and he does an excellent job crafting a story that should inspire anyone of any faith. The preaching and Mormon dogma is at a minimum. I really think the average moviegoer would find it a touching, gripping story.
It also looks great with wonderful cinematography by Jeremy Prusso where we get the grandness of Africa contrasting with the tightness of the compact car. I loved the music too.
I really loved everything about Freetown. It is a moving depiction of normal people of faith facing an extremely difficult situation in a real and honest way. If you can go see it!
Overall Grade A+ Content Grade C+
Here’s my youtube review if you want to check it out. Give it a thumbs up that would be awesome.