The Movie Waffler Vashon Island Film Festival 2022 Review - FREEDOM’S PATH | The Movie Waffler

Vashon Island Film Festival 2022 Review - FREEDOM’S PATH

freedom's path review
A wounded Union soldier becomes involved with the Underground Railroad.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brett Smith

Starring: RJ Cyler, Gerran Howell, Ewen Bremner, Carol Sutton, Thomas Jefferson Byrd

freedom's path poster

The "War is hell" tropes come early in writer/director Brett Smith's feature debut, Freedom's Path, as we focus on the psychologically scarred young soldier whose voiceover tells us he's unsure of his role in the conflict he's found himself caught up in. The conflict is the US Civil War and the young soldier is William (Gerran Howell). He's on the Union side but we soon get the impression his loyalties are purely based on geography, fighting for the North simply because that's where he's from.

freedom's path review

After a skirmish with the Confederates, a wounded William drags himself away from the battlefield and is found by a group of escaped slaves. Just as they're debating whether to leave him to die or take him to get help, they're attacked by a group of slave hunters led by the ruthless Silas (Ewen Bremner). All are killed save for one, the teenage Kitch (RJ Cyler), who fights off an attacker, leaving a knife in his leg, and drags William to the safety of the home of a family of freed slaves.

Thus begins one of those classic narratives where a wounded soldier finds himself in unfamiliar circumstances and bonds with his rescuers as his wounds heal. Kitch is a member of the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves make their way to the Canadian border. Exaggerating the seriousness of his wounds, William does his best to avoid getting into further conflict, but when he realises the true evil of Silas, who is determined to find and kill Kitch.

freedom's path review

Much like the controversial Green Book, Freedom's Path is another tale of black and white protagonists forming an unlikely bond. Like that film, its naivete is borderline offensive but the chemistry between its leads is undeniable. How much you buy into the growing bromance between William and Kitch will depend on your level of cynicism towards race relations. Lines of dialogue like "If it weren't for the colour of your skin I'd swear you boys were kin" will either have you reaching for the tissues or the vomit bag. At one point that old line about how we all bleed red is even brought up as the film makes the most basic points about equality.

The script often has the innocence and clunkiness of a piece of Christian filmmaking, but visually Freedom's Path is surprisingly polished. Chris Koser's cinematography is so accomplished that I was surprised to find it's only his second fearure. His work goes a long way to capturing the sticky heat of the American South, and the contrast between its natural beauty and the human cruelty staining its cotton fields. Combine Koser's work with a moody score by Ryan Taubert and Freedom's Path looks and sounds as good as any big-budget Hollywood depiction of this era of American history.

freedom's path review

At over two hours, the movie takes an awfully long time to make a very simple point and ask why can't we all just get along? But some of that run time is alleviated by the impressive performances on display. Cast against type, Bremner is truly menacing, even if he is playing little more than a tobacco chewing redneck stereotype. Cyler and Howell's chemistry cements over some of the weaknesses in the script, and it's telling that the most effective moments aren't those in which the former is delivering a crude lecture on oppression, but rather when he acts as a human crutch for his new friend.

Freedom's Path
 played at the Vashon Island Film Festival.

2022 movie reviews