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.