Freedom’s Path Review | A Powerful but Uneven Civil War Drama


Freedom’s Path is a brutal Civil War drama about the horrors of slavery, an unlikely friendship, and the courageous few who risked death to run the Underground Railroad, a secret network that shepherded escaped slaves to the northern states. The film, gut-wrenching at times with its unflinching portrayal of racial oppression, regrettably treads into melodrama as characters stay rigidly defined to support the narrative’s agenda. Pacing also becomes an issue as excessive flashbacks and an overly stylized approach stretches an already long runtime. That said, its powerful themes and unvarnished truth lessens the flaws for a worthwhile viewing experience.

In the Deep South, Union soldier William (Gerran Howell) marches with his regiment toward battle in a fog-shrouded forest. He wonders aloud to his best friend if he can actually kill another man. Lewis (Harrison Gilbertson) scoffs at his reticence. They’ll make short work of the enemy. The newly enlisted men ran away from home to join the army. William remembers his childhood and beloved mother as the troops encounter a fleeing compatriot. They’re surrounded and walking into a massacre.

William quickly learns that courage isn’t a given as slaughter erupts around him. Any thoughts of heroism vanish when heads are blown off. He runs for his life away from the bloody carnage but doesn’t escape. A wounded William pretends to be dead to avoid detection. He painfully absconds in terror until fate intervenes. A group of runaway slaves find the injured soldier on their way north. Dee (Jermaine Rivers) decides they should help him. Bringing William to safety will boost their chances of joining the fight as soldiers. Kitch (RJ Cyler) disagrees. He’ll hold up their progress and put everyone in danger.

A Massacre Awaits

Freedom's Path
The Forge

Kitch’s words are barely spoken when the Confederates catch up. He’s forced to defend William as the others suffer the brunt of the attack. Kitch drags William away with a crushing realization. They need safe quarter fast. Kitch takes William home to the remote cabin of Caddy (Carol Sutton) and Ellis (Afemo Omilami). The former slaves shelter children and help runaways as a stop on the Underground Railroad. They can hide for a couple of days and give William time to recover. Meanwhile, Silas (Ewen Bremner), a vicious slave catcher, and his posse have caught another group of slaves. His savage methods enact quick answers and deadly punishment. Silas has been searching for Kitch. There’s a hefty reward for his capture.

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Freedom’s Path pulls no punches with raw dialogue. The N-word is dropped liberally by the Union soldiers and slave catchers. Blacks are considered inferior. The Civil War hasn’t enlightened any perspectives. William remains aloof under Caddy’s care; he’s unsure how to handle himself in a fraught situation. William has had no real interactions with the people he’s supposedly fighting to free.

Kitch never lets him forget his place. William is a burden that endangers Caddy’s family and has slowed his escape. They need to leave as soon as possible. Caddy believes that God wants them to help the righteous soldier. The shamed William lies about his valor and experience. He can’t admit to being a coward.

Kitch and William become predictably friendly on their journey. Freedom’s Path takes a page from classics like The Defiant Ones where disparate protagonists must overcome racial barriers to survive. William is shocked to see Kitch’s scars from cruel whippings. The crime of slavery had been an abstract concept to him. He’s immersed in Kitch’s life and finally understands the heinous nature of forced bondage. Kitch soon agrees that Dee was right to save William. They must be better men to force change. It’s an expected turn that feels sappy but necessary for the characters’ growth.

Bremner, a famed Scottish character actor, is unrecognizable as the despicable Silas. Writer/director Brett Smith channels the wicked Simon Legree from Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a reprehensible monster determined to enforce racial superiority and servitude. Your blood will boil as Silas gleefully inflicts barbarism while spouting his hateful venom. He embodies a system built on subjugation and with no inkling of humanity. To him, slaves are beasts of burden to be killed, beaten, and assaulted at whim. But he also holds William in further contempt as a traitor to his own race. Silas’ behavior and ruthless actions speak to the extent of his racist beliefs. This is both the most frightening and honest aspect of the film.

Related: Why Civil War Movies Are Having a Moment Right Now

America’s Original Sin

Freedom's Path movie
The Forge

Smith inserts a degree of poetic creativity to blunt the harshness. He uses a lot of slow motion, flashbacks, and various lighting cues for dramatic effect. I can appreciate the artistic effort, but he goes overboard. The additional flourishes slow down the film. Smith’s aiming for poignancy and not quite hitting the target.

Freedom’s Path tells a story about slavery from a white soldier’s point of view. This will undoubtedly spark further criticism. I’ll steer clear of that topic and judge the film on its merits. Freedom’s Path confronts America’s original sin head on. Slavery was ugly and abhorrent. There are issues here, but it certainly invokes a visceral response.

Freedom’s Path is a production of Rocket Soul Studios, 1812 Films, and Soulidifly Productions. It will have a limited theatrical release on September 8th followed by an October 6th VOD premiere from The Forge.

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