‘Out of Liberty’ REVIEW

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A lot of my fellow cinephiles can be very dismissive of the faith-based genre, and not without some due cause. Too often these well-meaning films are too preoccupied with delivering a sermon rather than telling a worthwhile story with complex characters. However, any genre can produce good films, and Garrett Batty’s new film Out of Liberty is a good example.

I was actually excited to see Out of Liberty because I like both of Batty’s last offerings, The Saratov Approach and Freetown (which was in my top 10 of 2015). All 3 of his films have been about people of faith put in harrowing circumstances where their faith doesn’t help them very much. There are no massive miracles, no grand speeches, just simple stories of how faith can help you get through the tough times. I admire that in his storytelling.

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In the case of Out of Liberty Batty is putting on his history glasses and telling the story of when Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph Smith (Brandon Ray Olive) is falsely arrested along with a number of other men, and forced to live in a dungeon-like cell accessible only by a rope while they await their trial. The conditions are brutal with limited food, light or proper sanitation. Early church leader Sidney Rigdon (Brock Rogers) struggles the most being incarcerated and his faith goes to a low spot as his health declines.

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All of the men struggle including the jailer Samuel Tillery (Jason Wade) who is the true lead of the film. Tillery often reminded me of a kinder version of Javert from Les Miserables. He is not a religious man, but he believes in the rule of law. He will keep the men inside the jail and the mob outside at all costs until Lady Justice has had her say. This dynamic made Out of Liberty feel more like a Western than a faith-based film and it worked for me on that level. In fact, there is really only 1 scene with Joseph I would describe as overtly religious.

This unique approach allows us to get to know the characters as human beings rather than paragons of religious virtue. Even the prophet is painted with the same ordinary-man brush as the rest of the men. At times, Out of Liberty almost felt like a play with its intimate setting and raw dialogue. I wish more faith-based films took this approach because its these more human characters that usually are the most inspirational. People with perfect faith aren’t interesting to me.

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The cast of Out of Liberty is all up for the challenge. I even enjoyed Corbin Allred as the controversial Porter Rockwell- a character that could have slipped into caricature easily.

As far as flaws, those with no understanding in Latter-day Saint history might be a little confused with who these men are, and what they have done to be arrested. A little bit more backstory might have helped clear that up. The angry mobs are always a bit one-note in these movies but that’s the case with almost all Westerns, so it’s not a big problem. Some of the pacing could perhaps be a little tighter in spots but overall I really enjoyed Out of Liberty.

If you are someone who enjoys historical dramas than I would say go see Out of Liberty. It’s a well written, moving character piece that is both a study of faith and a Western jailbreak survival story. It is definitely worth your time and is one of the good ones!

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy

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Screenwriting Interview w Melissa Leilani

Hi guys!  I had the cool experience today where I got to interview screenwriter Melissa Leilani and find out what it is like to write a script.  She was the main writer for a film I loved in 2015 called Freetown.

Freetown is a faith-based film but one that is approachable to anyone.  It tells the story of a man who must smuggle 6 missionaries out of Liberia during their brutal civil war.  Things are tense and Brother Abubakar is a man of practical faith mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism.  It makes him a very compelling character.

What I really appreciated about Freetown is that it told a compelling story and let the messsaging take care of itself.  Unlike many faith based films (that I still find some value in) I didn’t feel it was preachy or forcing a message upon me.  In fact, my friend Yusuf who is Muslim liked the film as much as I did.

Here are both of our reviews:

I think you might find it interesting to watch the film and then listen to the interview about her experience.  However, I also think it will be interesting if you are just interested in screenwriting or writing in general.  We do get off topic a few times (we have very similar movie and theater taste!).  She has a theater background so her transition from playwright to screenwriter was very interesting to me.

Anyway, this is only the 3rd interview I have done, so if you have any feedback that would be great.  I hope you enjoy it.

Freetown Review

freetownAs 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.