Call him elitist, but Judge Neal Masri believes it takes more than Samuel L. Jackson saying "motherf**ker" to make a movie great.
The truth is hiding where no one dares to look.
"Kiss my ass, brotherf**cker!"
Facts of the Case
Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven) walks into an emergency room in a rough part of town with her hands covered in blood. She has just been carjacked and Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) is the investigator assigned to her case. When Council learns that her son was in the car and is now missing, the case explodes.
The case intensifies once racial overtones are introduced. Martin reports that the carjacker is a black man. The predominantly black residents of the housing project where the crime occurred become more agitated as hours pass and the (mostly white) police presence increases. Just as in real life, a missing white kid is big news while missing children of color do not seem as important. For every Natalie Holloway or Elizabeth Smart that consumes cable news, there is a missing child of color whom you never hear about. This racial dichotomy is the most interesting aspect of the plot.
The initial meeting between Martin and Council and the recounting of the crime is well shot and edited. As Council slowly draws the full story out of Brenda, the intensity and suspense is palpable. The performances in this scene are dead on. Jackson's mounting alarm and Moore's hysteria are well played and believable. The movie is most alive and interesting when the two actors are together on screen. Council and Martin improbably pair off and spend a lot of time investigating the crime solo. I am no student of police procedure, but I doubt the cops would have this woman traipsing around town quite as much as she does.
Samuel L. Jackson can always be counted on to bring a forceful and riveting character to life (is there any actor who can throw out the term mutherf**ker with such panache?). Jackson's performance alone raises the level of the material. Julianne Moore's near constant hysteria is hit-and-miss. Her hysteria certainly seems warranted by the situation, but her overlong monologues belie the fact that she is an actor swinging for the fences. The story has a "ripped from the headlines" feel and, indeed, strongly resembles an infamous case that made national headlines.
The plot moves forward in fits and starts. We jump back and forth between the pressure cooker of racial tensions in the community where the crime occurred and Martin's personal anguish. This lack of focus does justice to neither storyline. Late in the proceedings a missing child tracker (Edie Falco, The Sopranos) is brought into the investigation. Falco's character slips in and out of the movie, as the plot requires. Her odd role seems completely unnecessary. I suspect the majority of her performance may be on the cutting room floor.
The investigation eventually takes a turn that is not nearly as surprising as the filmmakers seem to think it is. As the case changes, a powder keg of racial tension explodes. Council is torn between his role as a cop and a member of the community. All the while, the missing kid angle is put on the back burner. Interesting issues are raised, but not in any satisfying or enlightening way. It's half Crash and half C.S.I., with neither half getting the attention it deserves.
The disc contains both a full screen and widescreen presentation. The cinematography has an intentionally washed out and gritty look which is well presented here. Much of the film occurs in darkness and black levels are deep and well-defined. James Newton Howard's moody and unobtrusive score comes through nicely as do the occasional surround elements. The technical presentation is good and is appropriate to the material. There are no special features provided.
It's hard to put your finger on what exactly makes Freedomland an unsatisfying movie. The opening scenes are gripping, but the majority of the movie does not deliver on this early promise. Big issues are tackled here—racism, police brutality, and equal treatment under the law. The two main story threads, racial inequality and police procedural, seem like they came from two different movies. The screenplay seems plodding and in too much of a hurry all at once. There are good performances, an interesting premise, and some strong sequences but it just never comes together. Freedomland is less than the sum of its parts.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are strong performances all around. The screenplay, with its similarity to real life situations, is at times thought-provoking. I do not consider this a bad movie, but it is poorly executed.
Freedomland has a lot to say, but can't quite figure out how to say it. It wants to present a number of complicated issues wrapped up in the packaging of a thriller. Instead, it turns out to be a bit of a mess. With a little tinkering, the plot of this movie could have been a tight and entertaining episode of Law & Order. I'm not sure how the filmmakers managed it, but they have crafted a film that is both suspenseful and tedious at the same time.
There is enough reasonable doubt to save Freedomland from conviction. I pronounce a hung jury.
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