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Don't Pay to Visit 'Freedomland'

By Jeremy Mathews
(out of four)
Sony Pictures
Directed by Joe Roth

Screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe, Aunjanue Ellis and Anthony Mackie
Rated R

It's easy to admire the heights to which "Freedomland" aspires, but it's difficult to admire the resulting film. The filmmakers tried to unravel a suspenseful kidnapping mystery while addressing racial tensions and parenthood issues, but made an unfocused and dissatisfying mess.

The story begins as a a white woman (Julianne Moore) stumbles into a hospital in the projects and reports a car-jacking. Samuel L. Jackson plays Lorenzo, the asthmatic and panic-prone detective who works the neighborhood. When he interrogates the victim and learns that her ill son was sleeping in the back of the car, things start to go crazy. The woman is from the neighboring white suburb, and her brother is a hard-ass detective who crosses out of his jurisdiction to participate in a lock-down of the poor black neighborhood.

Complicating things is Lorenzo's itching suspicion that the victim isn't telling the full story of the car-jacking. This development is meant to call into question both the police action and the different characters' credibility. But Moore and Jackson fail to generate the seeds of doubt that are missing from the screenplay. The plot requires big revelations that lead to decisions, and the motivations simply aren't there.

The lock-down, of course, pushes the neighborhood near a riot—there's never a police presence as large when there are homicides, but as soon as a white kid goes missing, no one can leave the area. Lorenzo has a hard time justifying the lock-down due to his cloudily motivated suspicions. Adding to the chaos, Edie Falco plays the head of a group of mothers who help track down missing children and follow Lorenzo rather than call him.

Plenty of material piles on, and the emotional arc is continually obscured. At one point, Lorenzo visits his son in prison at night, in the middle of the intense and urgent investigation. Not only does the scene come out of nowhere, but its place in the timeline makes absolutely no sense.

In another unfruitful risk—especially for what is marketed as a thriller—the filmmakers loaded the film (and I mean load the film) with nothing but talking. The screenplay must have had pages upon pages of a single character's monologue. The problem is that Richard Price, who adapted his own novel, hasn't written especially engaging words for the actors to speak. Watching Moore and Jackson flounder alone with this material, without any back-and-forth to gain chemistry, is like watching a painter move his brush against thin air. Falco is the only one with a memorable scene, as her character gradually turns her personal tragedy into an interrogation.

But scenes like this make "Freedomland" even more frustrating. The film had the potential to be not only memorable, but thoght-provoking. But director Joe Roth and Price were too busy cramming in unresolved and unneeded elements to take the time to define their story and let the characters shut up.

jeremy [at]


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