The early days of Liberia’s long civil war provide the backdrop to “Freetown,” a modestly budgeted odyssey about Mormon missionaries fleeing the country for neighboring Sierra Leone. (The film opens on Wednesday.)
It’s 1989, and rebels are hunting anyone from the Krahn tribe, carrying out summary executions of the ruling class tribe members wherever they find them. That’s made it impossible for the nascent Mormon community of missionaries to do their work.
Abubakar (Henry Adofo) is charged with getting these young elders out to neighboring Sierra Leone. He has a car but little gas. And just rounding up six young men out spreading the Latter-day Saints word is a nightmare in a country overrun with armed, trigger-happy teenagers.
Garrett Batty’s “inspired by a true story” film is most at home capturing a country descending into chaos — the myopia of seeing a war up close. Locals and missionaries flee to the sanctuary of a church, randomly hunted by unorganized thugs piling out of pickup trucks, enforcing their reign of terror at the barrel of an AK-47.
The elders are idealistic; Abubakar (also a Mormon) is pragmatic. He’s trying to get them out, and they’re handing out tracts, recruiting kids, women and those not involved in the fighting.
“Revelation doesn’t come when we are hiding in the shadows,” one complains. Still, six of the young men in white shirts and ties tumble into Abubaker’s hatchback and they’re off.
Batty’s film has the elders see this deliverance from a checkpoint or that traverse of a vast mud puddle as a “miracle.” A nearly empty tank of gas that covers scores of miles? Another miracle. They’re chased toward the border by zealots determined to bring them to revolutionary justice.
The executions and the worst of the violence are kept off camera. The acting varies from passable to rote, wooden recitation. And there’s a hint of humor.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to a shower.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to you having a shower.”
But the film takes over an hour to get underway and dawdles even after it’s hit the road. The impending peril is feebly handled, the biblical allegories (one elder denies his tribe) a trifle heavy-handed.
Inter-African “racism” (tribalism, actually) is discussed, but not the then-current racist reputation of the church these young African men had joined. Perhaps they weren’t told.
So as odysseys go, “Freetown” is a short trip, and the incidents during it hardly seem the stuff of great drama, with or without “miracles.”
Rated PG-13 for thematic situations involving violence