Freedomland (2006) / Drama-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Aunjanue Ellis, Anthony Mackie
Director: Joe Roth
Screenplay: Richard Price (based on his novel)
Review published February 23, 2006
Julianne Moore (The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, Trust the Man) stars as Brenda Martin, a Gannon, NJ resident with a checkered past that claims to have given up her previous lifestyle with the birth of her son four years ago. However, after showing up at the police department with bloodied hands, an apparent carjacking victim, she drops the bomb on the investigating officer, Det. Lorenzo Council (Jackson, The Man), that her four-year-old son is still in the backseat. An APB is released in order to find the car in question, last seen in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Armstrong, but nothing turns up. However, given the supercharged nature of the case, the cops put the housing projects in a virtual lockdown until something or someone turns up knowing the whereabouts of the young boy. Emotions soon begin to boil over between the Armstrong community and the police department, threatening to turn into a riot, unless Council gets to the bottom of things before the breaking point arrives for the community he has sworn to protect.
Most critics may have lambasted this highly ambitious message-driven drama, so Iím very surprised to say that I was able to find it a very worthwhile experience, even if I recognize that there are some factors that may have contributed to its critical demise. First, it sports a February release date, which to many critics, usually means a film that studios have chosen to dump into theaters during a non-peak, non-Oscar contention season. Second, it is directed by Joe Roth, whose credentials include some very weak entries, most notably, Christmas with the Kranks, Americaís Sweethearts, and Revenge of the Nerds Part II. Third, it was clearly marketed in its trailer and ads as a nail-biting thriller, which this certainly is not, quite possibly annoying those viewers anxiously awaiting suspense that never comes. Lastly, it casts Julianne Moore for the second straight time in a major studio release, after The Forgotten (coincidentally also produced by Joe Roth), as a similarly grieving mother searching for a missing son, while everyone she turns to doubts her story. In essence, this would appear to be a tired and ineffective piece for those not ready to receive it, and given the skepticism as to its worth going in, many critics whoíve rightfully done their homework may have fought this one every step of the way.
Given the general critical consensus, I was expecting a dismal experience myself, but I didnít find it to be so. Instead, what I witnessed was a thought-provoking character piece that fits in well with other works by author Richard Price (Shaft, Clockers) in seedy urban thrillers with a bent toward social commentary. It also has some very engaging performances by its stars, with another very strong turn by Julianne Moore, and Samuel L. Jackson is in top form.
While many are quick to dump a film like Freedomland into the February trash heap, I guess it's true what they say about one man's trash being another's treasure. Perhaps it is a bit unfocused in its intent, but the strength of its good parts overshadow the bad sufficiently that Freedomland works quite well, provided youíre in the right frame of mind for a dark and somber affair, while having no expectations for a thrill-ride or a powerhouse Oscar contender. It's a cynical pill to swallow, nevertheless, so don't expect to leave the theater smiling.
©2006 Vince Leo