2006 - R - 113 Mins.
|Director: Joe Roth
|Producer: Scott Rudin
|Written By: Richard Price
|Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco, Ron Eldard
|Review by: Joe Rickey
|Official Site: www.sonypictures.com/movies/freedomland/
Another stellar performance by Samuel L. Jackson can't pull 'Freedomland' out of the gutter.
Why do I continue to do this to myself?
Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) claims that her son Cody was kidnapped by a carjacker who attacked her before taking the car and her son. She claims it happened while she was in the Armstrong Projects, an all black neighborhood where she works at a daycare center. Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson) is assigned to the case. He immediately questions her story because it does not seem to make sense as to why she would be in the neighborhood so late at night.
Convincing him further that all is not as it seems is her claim that Cody was sick. Who in their right mind would go out late at night with a sick kid? Unfortunately for Council, Brenda's brother Danny (Ron Eldard) is a Gannon detective who feels that it is his right to tear apart Armstrong and the surrounding Dempsey community in an effort to find the missing child. Naturally, this does anything but make the residents happy as they get up in arms over why the neighborhood must be subjected to such turmoil because of the disappearance of one white kid when nothing as widespread was enacted when one of their own went missing. It is up to Council to sort out the evidence, including Brenda's shady history replete with drug abuse and other problems, and solve the case before the residents of Armstrong have had enough and violence erupts in the streets.
Joe Roth's (founder of the now defunct Revolution Studios and the director of the horrid 'Christmas with the Kranks') film attempts to tell a thought-provoking story (based on Richard Price's novel and screenplay) mixing race relations with the thriller staple that is child abduction (Julianne Moore's second film dealing with the subject after 'The Forgotten') but he lacks the subtle touch necessary for the former, and the ability to generate tension needed for the latter. Instead, what results is a muddled mess of a film that has no idea how to structure its story (calling the film convoluted is being generous).
The race relations portion of the storyline is given much of the opening forty or so minutes in the limelight as it attempts to detail the escalating tension. The problem is that the writing is so slapdash and shopworn that anyone who has seen a film dealing with race in the past twenty years has seen it all before (others films such as 'Dark Blue' handled race in a more even-handed fashion). Perhaps in an effort to expedite the pacing, the film paints the residents of Armstrong with broadstrokes, making them either A) Angels who can do no wrong or B) humanoids barely a step above primates in their temperament. This method is infuriating to behold in a film, especially a 2006 release. More intelligence should rightfully be expected.
Meanwhile, the child abduction storyline falls victim moreso than any other facet of the film to the aforementioned haphazard plotting. The viewer wishes for a roadmap or flow chart of some kind to keep track of all the circumlocutions. This portion also becomes more and more predictable as the film progresses because Roth throws far too many heavy-handed visual and auditory clues our way before the inevitable truth is finally revealed in a laboriously overblown fashion.
The overblown component can partially be blamed on Julianne Moore's stunningly awful performance. She overacts at every turn, treating her character as a series of tics and mannerisms. Ron Eldard does anything but help matters as he once again overplays the role of dirty cop (after 'The Life of David Gale'). It's about time he gets a new schtick and broadens his horizons to say, a good cop instead of a bad one. Samuel L. Jackson does lend the film some much-needed credibility with his suitably reserved performance in which he tells all one needs to know with one facial expression.
'Freedomland' is one place definitely not worth visiting.