E1 Entertainment // 2012 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 27th, 2012
To serve, protect...and steal.
Robert De Niro does not traditionally play cops. In fact, pretty much every one of his iconic (dramatic) roles has been as some kind of criminal. He's not always on the wrong side of the law (see Meet the Parents or Backdraft), but most of his iconic roles involve being a criminal. From Johnny Boy in Mean Streets to Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas, De Niro is associated with criminal enterprise. Freelancers obviously wants to trade on that association, because even though De Niro wears a badge in this flick (and has attained a high rank), he's still a hood at heart. Freelancers very much hopes that viewers will find some comfort in seeing heavies like De Niro and Forest Whitaker as crooked cops, since comfort is all this tired retread of dirty cop dramas has to offer.
LaRue (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Righteous Kill) is the son of a slain police officer turned small time hood in NYC. He and two of his friends get locked up, but find themselves paroled and enrolled in the police academy. Freelancers picks up as they graduate. LaRue finds himself attached to the Street Vice Crime Task Force under the direction of his father's former partner, Vic Sarcone (Robert De Niro). Of course not all is as it seems, as the Street Vice Crime Task Force is a haven for dirty cops mixed up in LaRue's past and present.
Viewers love a dirty cop. Whether it's the success of Training Day or the critical acclaim of Copland, we want to see officers going outside the law. There's a naughty thrill in watching a policeman go from serving the public to busting heads and doing drugs. Maybe we enjoy it because we get to see that lawmen are people, too, or maybe we just like knowing justice is served outside the law sometimes. In either case, Freelancers pretty much only has cops-behaving-badly to offer viewers.
These cops are luckily portrayed (for the most part) by great actors. I'm willing to watch Robert De Niro abuse himself in numerous ways. His Sarcone is surprisingly charming and dangerous. I'm impressed that De Niro has kept his edge for as long as he has. Forest Whittaker likewise plays a cocaine-addled officer (who must, of course, train LaRue in the ways of being a crooked cop) with all the gusto he brings to his most memorable roles. It never seems to occur to either of them that they're in a low-rent cop drama that emphatically repeats better work (and work that both these actors have done themselves). Then, there 50 Cent, who is a bit wooden but surprisingly watchable as the young rookie. Because his character is left in the dark for much of the film, it makes sense that 50 Cent has a perpetual look of surprise and/or indecision on his face.
I also have little to complain about where Freelancers (Blu-ray) is concerned. The film goes for that "gritty" look (inspired, no doubt, by films like Training Day) which means that colors vary considerably. Black levels also fluctuate depending on the scene, though that is likely intentional as with the colors. Detail is strong throughout, with faces and smaller objects showing and impressive amount of resolution. Digital difficulties have largely been avoided, though some excess sharpening is visible in some skylines. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix does a fine job of presenting the dialogue, and when the soundtrack (filled, unsurprisingly, with hip-hop) kicks in the clarity is excellent and the subwoofer gets a workout. Rear channels don't get that much use, but there is some directionality during more action-oriented scenes.
Extras start with a commentary by director Jessy Terrero and 50 Cent. It's not a great track; there's quite a bit of silence. Despite producing the film, 50 Cent mostly sticks to commenting on his co-stars and what's happening on the screen. Twenty minutes of deleted scenes follow, as does a standard EPK-style featurette. Thirty minutes of interviews with most of the principles are also included. The only big name missing is De Niro, as 50 Cent, Forest Whitaker, and Jessy Terrero (among others) show up to talk about the film. Finally, the film's trailer is included as well.
I understand that sometimes young men are given the choice between jail and military service, but the basic premise of Freelancers is so absurd that it's difficult to suspend disbelief. Ignoring the fact that all the exposition is handled by a lackluster credit sequence, the idea of a criminal-turned-cop -- let alone three of them in one precinct -- pretty much jettisons any credibility the film might have had on the level of plot.
Let's ignore that for a moment, though. Even if LaRue and his buddies were choirboys before joining the police force, it wouldn't make up for the fact that Freelancers steals from every other dirty cop movie you've ever seen. Of course LaRue ends up with his father's old partner. Of course, we find out that not everything about his father's death was legit. Of course, LaRue has to do something about it all. Anyone even remotely familiar with the genre can spot the turns coming from a mile away. Pretty much everyone who isn't already a huge fan of 50 Cent would almost certainly be better off just re-watching Training Day.
With any other cast, Freelancers would be another forgettable dirty cop drama. With the cast it has, it's either a blessing or a travesty. Those with the patience to sit through another repetition of the same old story will get to see some fine performances by great actors. Those with less patience will instead likely find themselves angry at the great acting wasted on such a so-so premise. In either case, a rental is the highest recommendation I can give Freelancers (Blu-ray) despite its technical merits.
Guilty, but what do you expect from dirty cops?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes