Cry Freedom

Cry Freedom is ostensibly the story of South Africa's freedom fighter, Stephen Biko. An hour or so into the movie, Stephen Biko dies and it degenerates into a story about how a white South African newspaper editor flees the South African police to publish the truth.

But before Biko dies, the plot is centred more around Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), the brave newspaper editor trying to change the world, rather than Biko (Denzel Washington). Woods, after initially labelling Biko as a "black racist", changes his views after a personal meeting with the black leader. Even though he has commitments to a family with children, Woods takes on the cause against apartheid with gusto and goes to great lengths to promote Biko's view of equality among the white and black populations of South Africa. Woods endures being banned by the South African police and threats of imprisonment and death to publish his story about how Biko was murdered in prison.

I am not sure why this film was directed from the perspective of Woods by Richard Attenborough (even given the fact that it was based on a novel by Woods which can only be told from his perspective). It really is pointless to view this incident from the perspective of Woods, and a similar effect could've been achieved by keeping the pacing tight so that the audience sees the movie through the eyes of both Woods and Biko. Even considering it from Hollywood's perspective, i.e., box-office success, Woods' escape is so boring and monotonous that for the second half of the film, barring displays of the occasional flashback featuring Biko or the authorities cracking down on innocent blacks, the film completely loses momentum.

On the positive side, the acting by Washington and Kline is great and there is some chemistry between them. The movie does illustrate some of the injustices that occurred during the apartheid era in a powerful manner and it would've been better if more time had been devoted to these sorts of issues. The first half of the film, up to the point where Biko is killed, is fairly tight and engrossing.

Generally, watching injustices such as the apartheid that occurred in South Africa in film, gets me worked up and write long rants. Cry Freedom fails in this regard---the scene which showed a whole bunch of South African children being gunned down for rebelling against being taught a "white" education (a real life event that resulted in over 700 deaths) is presented from an extremely detached perspective, as is Biko's death. In fact, both these events are presented more in the form of text, while we're shown, in excruciating detail, Woods' plane flight across South Africa which, while picturesque, is incongruous given the context.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala ||