Sundance Review: Give Me Liberty

Score:  B+

Director: Kirill Mikhanovsky

Cast: Chris Galust, Lauren Spencer, Maksim Stoyanov, Darya Ekamasova

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rated: NR

A sense of place, a compelling story, characters we care about. These are elements of any good movie, but especially a movie with no budget. Give Me Liberty is a debut for a lot of people, but they're all so terrific, you think they'd been doing this for years.

Vic (Chris Galust) is just trying to make it through another lousy day. He's a van driver for disabled people, ferrying them to doctor's appointments and job interviews around Milwaukee. But today is his great-aunt's funeral, and the shuttle that was supposed to take his grandfather and the rest of the surviving members of the family to the cemetery never showed up. Guilted into doing one last thing, he agrees to add eight cantankerous Russians, along with his other passengers.

Well behind on all his rides, hassled by his dispatch, heckled by his scheduled passengers, harassed by his family, it's a stressful experience that feels authentic. (Mikhanovsky did his own frantic editing.) But what makes Give Me Liberty so special is that Mikhanovsky and his co-writer Alice Austen have a deep love for all their characters. The situation is annoying, but the characters never are.

Among the many endearing characters are Dima (Maksim Stoyanov), a charming man who claims to be a long-lost nephew, and Tracy (Lauren Spencer), an African-American woman with ALS who Vic harbors a crush on. In a remarkable bit of casting (that should be commonplace), Spencer herself is also disabled. Much of the cast is, and the film never makes them the subject of ridicule.

It's an insane day, and the last 30 minutes stretch believability. But the film still believes in its characters and their inherent goodness, even if they're deeply flawed. This is the kind of movie to rave about at Sundance. It's a truly independent American film, and feels like nothing we've seen before. This one's truly special.



About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.