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Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for some violence.

Reviewed by: Gabriel Mohler

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Christian History Music Drama
1 hr. 34 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
June 6, 2015 (select)
DVD: July 14, 2015
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Relevant Issues
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RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?

Who was John Newton?

Copyright, ARC Entertainment

What was the Underground Railroad?


forgiveness of sin

FORGIVEN?—How can I be and feel forgiven? Answer

GUILT—If God forgives me every time I ask, why do I still feel so guilty? Answer

Does the Bible condone slavery? Answer

FOUNDING FATHERS AND SLAVERY—Were all of America’s Founding Fathers racists, pro-slavery, and hypocrites? Answer

slaves in the Bible

About hope

Click here to watch THE HOPE on-line!
Discover God’s promise for all people—told beautifully and clearly from the beginning. Discover The HOPE! Watch it on-line, full-length motion picture.
Featuring: Cuba Gooding Jr.Samuel
William Sadler … Plimpton
Sharon Leal … Vanessa
David Rasche … Jefferson Monroe
Terrence Mann … Barney Fagan
Michael Goodwin … Garrett
Phyllis Bash … Adira
Phillip Boykin … Big Hand
more »
Director: Peter Cousens
Producer: Production One
Distributor: ARC Entertainment
Timothy A. Chey
Cuba Gooding Jr.
more »

“Two men, 100 years apart, united by amazing grace”

“Freedom” is one of the best films to come out in some time, along with “Beyond the Mask.” Ironically, a movie about liberation was given a completely unfair R rating, which I will address later. This movie has strong and specific Biblical virtues.

Two events in history are reenacted in a way that flows very smoothly. Fugitive slaves are travelling the underground railroad, and the grandmother with them is telling them about John Newton’s slave ship (which is also reenacted). The movie also has some music numbers—gospel spirituals and hymns (including, of course, “Amazing Grace.”)

Slaves are shown being whipped and cruelly treated, but this will only be disturbing to the especially sensitive—except, of course, the natural way in which seeing cruelty is disturbing to everyone. The villains cuss three or four times, and the N-word is used once (also, note that s**t was not considered offensive back in that day). Some male slaves on the ship are seen shirtless, and there are pencil sketches shown of nude slaves, but nothing sensitive is visible.

This film does not shy away from constant, powerful, and reiterated Christian themes. It’s more than just the context of historical accuracy. The slaves either trust God or learn to trust God as they travel, and the spiritual conversion of John Newton is portrayed without reservation.

It must be noted that this film is a reason for us to give up on the MPAA. We’ve put up with movies containing strong violence or sexual content being rated PG-13, but now their mistake is reversed—and it just so happens that it’s with a Christian-themed film. Maybe they fooled when they rated “The Conjuring” R, but this time it’s not even subtle. The violence in this film is barely worthy of PG-13, had it not been for the Christian themes, it probably would have been PG. The whippings are not too graphic; the blood is either offscreen or shown only partially or from a distance. There are bullet wounds shown, but, overall, this film by no means whatsoever deserved to be rated R. I never like to be too certain with my assumptions, but there seems to be no other reason for the R-rating than discrimination. The MPAA said it was rated R “for some violence,” but I believe the certificate should say “because we didn’t like the Christian content.” Even a ten year old would be able to tell that the R-rating is, frankly, downright ridiculous.

The virtues of this film are a wonderfully pleasant surprise, similar to the film “Amazing Grace,” which is about William Wilberforce (and which you should also watch). After you watch the excellent film “Beyond the Mask,” which was released in theaters recently and is about the American Revolution, jump forward in history (and, in the case of John Newton, back) in this superb and very touching movie “Freedom.”

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor

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See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I loved this story. The mix of the historical Underground railroad and slavery in the United States, tied in with the story of John Newton writer of Amazing Grace, and the fictional story of Samuel and his family made a brilliant subject. Samuel’s journey to freedom and his discovery of faith in God’s promise, lead to a deeply moving end to this movie.

One thing that struck me was Samuel’s exit from the plantation and journey to freedom reminded me deeply of the Exodus story, and while no one parted the seas for Samuel, the miracles of God were there all the same, in the form of help from his fellow man along the journey.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Scott, age 43 (Canada)
Positive—Good movie. I agree with the reviewer’s comments about the R rating. I would have no problem with my youngest daughter of age 10 seeing this movie. It has solid Christian themes, throughout. I had some difficulty finding where I could watch this movie, but found it for rent on Amazon.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Adam, age 43 (USA)
Neutral—My husband and I viewed this film this evening, and I must admit that I had high expectations. I was hoping for something similarly compelling to the film “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce. Even without comparing “Freedom” to that film, we both found it very lukewarm and unmemorable. The parts of the film which should have been dramatic felt rather forced and devoid of real emotion. The action was almost anti-climactic, with none of the intensity and urgency which I expected from a movie about escapees fleeing on the Underground Railroad (save for a scant few well-done scenes). I’ve just thought of exactly what this film seemed like to me… it was as if I had come into the last episode of a television mini series after having watched none of the previous installments.

I felt like I was supposed to be moved by the characters and their situations, but did not know them well enough to relate to them. That is exactly how “Freedom” seemed to me. I began to question the research the filmmakers had put into the movie after noticing a simple anachronistic error early on when Newton’s future wife Mary sings “It Is Well With My Soul” in the 1700s, although the song was not penned until the late 1800s. I am not usually critical of such errors, but this did little to help me have any faith in its accuracy regarding other events. The movie just did not feel very believable, and I was unable to connect with it. I felt a continued sense of disjointedness that did not allow me to immerse myself fully into the lives of the characters.

Of course, this did not all stem from the error about the hymn, but was a cumulative effect of the pacing, writing and acting. I know that Cuba Gooding Jr. is a fine and dramatic actor. I appreciated his performances in “Gifted Hands” and “Radio,” yet here he seemed distracted and wooden. I am confident that he and the other actors and actresses did their best with the material, and are to be commended for taking on such difficult roles set in such tumultuous time periods. But I could not connect with Samuel or his family, or John Newton and the slaves we met on his ship. There was so much potential here for real connection, for feeling real grief for the characters in times of grief and feeling real joy in their times of joy, but we just could not engage in it despite wanting very much to do so.

There was only one scene, near the beginning, which truly reached me… and it did not involve the main characters. After that gripping scene, I was waiting for more that never came.

I was also somewhat surprised at the lack of spiritual depth. Mayhap I was expecting far too much in that area after reading the main review. Newton crying out to God during the storm seemed almost an afterthought, or worse… a mere change of heart about slavery instead of the pleadings of a desperate sinner seeking God. We never see him reach the point of recognizing himself as the “wretch” of his song. There was a brief proclamation that he was a “different man” than he had been, but other than singing his song, there was no reason given for his change. (In actuality, Newton continued to work aboard slave ships for years even after his spiritual experience during the storm, , and he claimed that his true conversion did not come until much later.)

Of course, it was far better than secular fare, but if I was an unbeliever watching this film, or someone who did not know the story of John Newton, I would have had no idea what was happening or what the film was trying to portray about his life. There was so much possibility there.

For a different portrayal of Newton, see the movie “Amazing Grace” and hear the brokenness in old Newton’s voice as he remembers the depravity of his soul before he was saved. Hear him proclaim that he only knows one thing… that “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.” There was none of that gospel-centered boldness in “Freedom.” (One serious flaw in the “Amazing Grace” portrayal of Newton was that he was shown as a man seeking to do penance for something which God had already forgiven.)

There was also much possibility presented in the unbelieving character Samuel and his journey to faith in God as he traveled the Railroad. But it felt very forced and left me wondering if his faith was just gratefulness for God’s protection or if it was the sort of faith that would bring him fully to Christ. We are left not really knowing.

There is a great story of redemption to be told about John Newton, and there is a great story of heroism to be told about those bravely conducting and riding the Underground Railroad. I felt that this movie tried too hard to combine the two and fell short of the mark. I appreciate the effort but had hoped for so much more.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—Shawna, age 37 (USA)

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