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'Chasing Freedom' Doesn't Get There

Court TV's third original film, Chasing Freedom, tries to lift the veil on the brutal treatment of women in Afghanistan and the difficult process of gaining political asylum in the United States. It does an admirable job with the former, but falls short on the latter.

Based on a true story, Chasing Freedom tells the plight of Meena Gardizi, an Afghan woman trying to escape the oppression of the Taliban regime. She enters the country early in 2001, and her fight for asylum is punctuated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Gardizi is brilliantly portrayed by Afghan-born actress Layla Alizada, whose performance easily outshines the rest of the cast. Meena's story of the treatment of women in Afghanistan — and of her arrest and violent punishment merely for teaching girls to read and write — makes a strong emotional impact.

Unfortunately, the weight and depth of that story is undercut by the movie's legal thread. Ironically, the Court TV film skimps on the courtroom drama, only hinting at the difficulties inherent in the asylum process.

Juliette Lewis, who adds star power, is inconsistent as Meena's lawyer Libby Brock. Lewis is not very believable as an attorney. She seems awkward and nervous in all of the scenes that require her to be a lawyer.

Lewis has turned in commanding performances in the theatricals Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers and in Home Box Office's Hysterical Blindness, but she doesn't get the chance to make Libby as powerful a character as her previous roles.

Libby's character is underdeveloped. We see her transformed from a lawyer doing pro bono work as a favor to her boss to one obsessed with gaining asylum for Meena. But Libby's transition is too abrupt, with little of the motivation behind the change depicted.

Chasing Freedom debuts on Court TV Jan. 19 at 8 p.m. ET.