There’s one thing I’m going to remember about Freedomland more than anything — seeing this movie cost me about $300. Allow me to explain. Upon returning home from seeing this terrible film, I received an e-mail from a friend alerting me that a secret code had been floating around the Internet. This code was to be used at Amazon.com, and when punched in at the check-out, your order would be free as long as it totaled over 80 dollars. Just as I was about to check out with over $300 of goods the window closed and the code was no longer working. If I had not seen Freedomland then I would have gotten this news earlier and would have been able to obtain my booty. Alas, I did see Freedomland, a drama that attempts to shed light on racial woes. Movie mogul Joe Roth, the head of Revolutions Studios, doesn’t direct movies fairly often and when he does they’re not great (America’s Sweethearts, Christmas with the Kranks). I knew exactly what I was getting into when I entered the theater; I just didn’t know it was going to cost me $300.
In 1999 New Jersey , Brenda (Julianne Moore) walked dazed and bloodies through an urban neighborhood to a hospital. She tells detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson) that she was the victim of a car jacking while she was traveling through an urban area. She says a black man threw her from her car and drove off. Brenda’s four-year-old son Cody is still in the car. This sets the neighboring communities abuzz. Brenda’s hot-headed cop brother (Ron Eldard) is ready to turn the black projects and high rises upside down, unafraid of whom he may harass. The black community is in an uproar over the treatment, succinctly pointing out that many black children go missing but the news vans and police cars only come out when the missing happens to be white (for further proof, look to the still ongoing coverage of Natalee Halloway). Karen (Edie Falco) runs a team of mothers who volunteer nationwide to help find missing children. Lorenzo has his own doubts about Brenda and the details of her story.
Plain and simple, Freedomland just does not have enough story to justify its existence. It goes nowhere and practically drifts to its long-awaited conclusion. You’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel around the halfway mark, and then Freedomland limps to its foreseeable ending, devoid of any twists and turns that aren’t telegraphed a mile away. It got so pathetic that I was actually hoping, against all odds, there’d be some gonzo M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist at the very end to jar me out of my complacency. No such luck. The marketing folks of Freedomland seemed to advertise a twist ending, which is hard to believe since everything plays out exactly like you?d first suspect. Moore’s overacting hysteria makes the audience doubt her from the start; plus the fact that Brenda’s like, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot, my SON is in the hijacked car.”
This is a movie so mishandled by Roth that every moment feels false, and when it doesn’t feel false it feels trite and awkward. Take a moment when Lorenzo takes Brenda to an empty urban high-rise. He?s got her pinned in a corner, very literally, and is pressing to know if she killed her kid. The framing of the scene would almost suggest something quasi-romantic, with Lorenzo leaning very closely into Brenda and his arm against the wall beside her. At the very least, it?s really intrusive. And then at the end of Brenda’s “he was all I got” monologue the two actors seem to just stare at each other, like they’re mentally waiting to hear the word “Cut.” The weird framing and the editing make the scene feel amateurish.
But Roth doesn’t stop there. Freedomland itself is a gigantic mislead, and the old abandoned building has about five minutes of total screen time. It’s not enough to even qualify as a red herring, let alone justify it as a movie title. Apparently, this building has been rotting in the woods for decades, and yet Lorenzo lets a large volunteer search party just trounce around inside. I’m pretty sure any policeman worth their salt would need to get a team to make sure the building was structurally sound before letting civilians snoop around in a potential crime scene. That’s not enough stupidity. Later while the people are exploring the Freedomland building, Karen says the floorboards may give way at any moment, and then she leaves Brenda by herself with said unreliable floorboards. Do these people even understand what they’re doing?
Freedomland seems so message-hungry and preoccupied with making some Big Statement that it forgets to be entertaining. Roth is clueless how to juggle all his plot elements, letting the racial tensions turn both sides into offensive stereotypes. The white cops have short fuses and have no hesitation to assault innocent black people (they’d be suspended and then reviewed). The black community in Freedomland, while seeming to have nothing better to do than assemble and shout at the police, stir up their community ills whenever the plot deems it necessary. Some black people are seen setting the community’s own property on fire, swept up in the rising air of a riot. Rafik, a youth given a lot of foreshadowing, instigates the riot and an entire wall of angry black faces proceeds, never mind that this brash decision results in many innocent people being beaten. The movie seems to say that all blacks are victims or instigators. Freedomland is so earnest to be earnest that it misses the mark when it comes to all the details. How else to explain why the film is inexplicably set in 1999. Someone didn’t tell the film’s costume designer, because Rafik is wearing a “G-Unit” shirt, a rap group that didn’t come into light until after 50 Cent’s commercial rise in 2003.
Perhaps the film’s ending is Roth?s biggest misfire. Lorenzo visits Cody?s shallow grave, now festooned with flowers and personal messages. He reads one that says, basically, “Cody’s death made us all look beyond our differences and realize what we have in common, the ability to feel sad.” What? Is Roth actually justifying the death of a child and subsequent racial fallout as being medicine for society’s ills? This seems ridiculous to me, especially after sitting through two hours of a movie where no one came together, unless you’re talking about the human connection of fist-to-face.
The acting in Freedomland is so unrestrained and shows another of Roth?s directorial weaknesses. Moore, always so reliable a performer, goes out of her mind and gives what should be the worst performance of her career. She’s so over the top, so Looney tunes, so wildly out of control with no bearing, she’s practically bouncing off the walls; it’s kind of embarrassing to watch. Her hysterical theatrics provide several moments of unintentional laughter, particularly a moment where Lorenzo is interrogating her and she just blurts out, “I love you.” Freedomland does her no service by handing her some dreadful dialogue and drawn out monologues. I think it may be time for Moore to star in something a little happier instead of more movies where she’s predominantly crying or grieving. And is it me, or does it seem like Moore has a habit of losing her kids in movies (maybe she should start tethering them to her waist)? Note to Julianne Moore: just because you get to cry and scream doesn’t mean you should take the role. Did you actually read the script to Freedomland?
Jackson, left directionless with an underdeveloped character, reverts to his standard operating procedure when it comes to authority figures … namely staring and yelling. Lorenzo has some character traits (asthma, a son in prison) that are either dropped or have no payoff or insight toward his character. He?s a cop in the middle of it all, and yet Freedomland feels like just having Jackson as an actor should cover the characterization part. At this point, Jackson can do these roles in his sleep.
Falco, far more subdued than everyone else in a very yell-heavy movie, leaves the biggest impression and gives the movie life when she’s onscreen. Falco’s character is what Freedomland should have been based around, not Moore’s shrieking loon of a mother. Falco has the film’s only great moment, effortlessly shifting a story about her own loss and need for closure back to Brenda. The patience and control Falco has in that scene only reminds me how much I need The Sopranos back on the air.
Freedomland is so starved to say something grandiose about racial tensions that it neglects being entertaining. When the movie is entertaining, it’s mainly because of the wild, embarrassing overacting and the nonsensical human behavior. At its worst, Freedomland is offensive to cops and blacks and moviegoers in general with working grey matter, at its best Freedomland is a muddled, incompetently directed movie that drifts unchallenged toward its expected and welcomed end. Roth should leave directing to people that have a better feel for taking control of actors, material, and editing. For those that said the racially-charged Crash lacked tact, I invite them to take a trip to Freedomland. It’s trite, it’s dull, it’s funny when it’s not meant to be, and it’s one of the worst films of 2006.
Nate’s Grade: D+
Posted on February 18, 2006, in 2006 Movies and tagged bad movies, book, cops, drama, edie falco, joe roth, julianne moore, ron eldard, samuel l. jackson, thriller. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.