Freedomland, the latest cop mystery starring Samuel Jackson, Edie Falco and Julianne Moore, is a standard issue factory product that barely survives on decent production values and experienced acting. Though the pieces are in place for a riveting thriller with an exciting buildup, the possibility ultimately remains an unrealized tease in the hands of a lesser director.
The story begins with a haggard Julianne Moore as Brenda Martin wandering through the streets and into a hospital, presumably for treatment for her badly injured hands. Saying she is the victim of a carjacking, she is delivered into the hands of Samuel Jackson’s Lorenzo Council, who proceeds according to the standard routine until Brenda finally, almost accidentally, lets it slip that her son was in the car. Suddenly, the hunt is on for the missing child, and the police take the drastic step of surrounding and closing down the urban neighborhood in which the child was allegedly kidnapped. Tensions mount between the police force and the black inhabitants of the ghetto and Lorenzo Council finds himself playing intermediary between the citizens and the cops while trying to find the missing child. Just when the Feds are about to step in and take control of the situation, Edie Falco, playing Karen Collucci, a mother who herself once lost a child, steps in at Lorenzo’s request and organizes a citizen search for the boy.
The movie does well enough on the technical aspects of filmmaking, and the three principal actors handle their parts as we might expect. But it fails wherever the director touches it. Rather than serving as an emotional backdrop for the plot of the kidnapped child, the tension between the citizens and the police never seems to find its appropriate place in the story. It has no effect on the outcome, little enough influence on the investigation itself, and when things finally come to a head and the people of the ghetto clash with the cops, there is too little at stake to really care about how it turns out. The best thing the director can squeeze out of it is a surfeit of forced dramatic tension consisting of the people, who all know Lorenzo, complaining to him about the cops, and the cops complaining to him about the people. By the sixth, seventh or possibly fiftieth time someone accosted poor Lorenzo and unfairly blamed him for the mess being created, one got the feeling that that particular well was now very much dry.
The biggest mistake committed is the long interlude where Karen, Lorenzo, Brenda and about two hundred other concerned citizens, all gathered together with a swiftness and ease that makes one incredulous, go searching for the child at Freedomland, an abandoned orphanage of some sort. The scarce momentum which the movie was able to build is quickly dissipated as we are treated to shot after shot of people walking around poking at the ground with sticks in an attempt to find some trace of Brenda’s son. All this is done to a languid score that is out of place not only for that particular part of the movie, but for that particular movie as well.
Apart from mishandling the rhythm of the movie as a whole, the director does not fare any better with individual scenes. There are long monologues which do little other than bore. There is the aforementioned forced dramatic tension. Many scenes are just not played right, such as when Lorenzo first discovers that Brenda’s child was in the car when it was stolen. It’s a scene where a veteran detective, incredibly enough, starts to panic, fumbles with his pen and pad of paper, sucks on an inhaler to calm himself down, and even yells at Brenda when his questions are not understood. Worst of all, a camera in desperate need of a tripod is flitting about the room the whole time in a manic attempt to accentuate the flurried panic of the situation. It’s supposed to get your pulse racing, but it only manages to raise eyebrows.
Still, I would not say that Freedomland, on the balance, is a terribly bad movie. There was just enough that was good about it to cancel out most of the bad and keep it on the border of respectability. The acting, despite a lack of ideas from the director, is pretty good, and the movie is attractive to look at. The director of photography and the set designers, along with the actors, did their jobs. It was the director, and most likely the editor, who let them down.
Good acting and a smart look to it. Plus, the idea for the movie holds promise.
Directing that is just short of lousy and an overall failure to establish and maintain any kind of momentum, let alone realize a satisfying climax. Many scenes simply don’t work and the two principal aspects of the film mean nothing to each other, so that it either becomes a movie of racial tension with a superfluous crime caper attached, or a crime caper with a distracting bit about police powers in an urban neighborhood.
Making the Grade:
Matthew Alexander is a Staff Writer for Film School RejectsPowered by Sidelines