Freedomland: Good acting in a so-so movie.


Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), is a single mom who works at a day care at the Armstrong housing project in Dempsy, New Jersey. Brenda lives in the predominately white, blue-collar town of Gannon, which is connected to Dempsy. As the movie opens, Brenda is stumbling into an emergency room, dazed and bloodied. She says that she has been carjacked, and that the black man who stole her car managed to get away with Cody, her four-year-old son, in the backseat.

Samuel L. Jackson portrays Lorenzo Council, a veteran detective assigned to the case. Council believes Brenda’s story may have some holes. Despite his skepticism, he begins an all-out search for the child. Making matters extremely difficult, however, is the fact that as the search for the carjacker grows ever more intense, racial tensions between the black residents of Armstrong and the primarily white police force threatens to explode into violence.

First the good news, Freedomland features some fine performances by an excellent cast. Julianne Moore delivers her usual fantastic job, and Samuel L. Jackson shows us a softer side that is a departure from his more typical badass roles. Edie Falco shines brighter than all others as Karen, the head of a group of mothers that search for missing children.

Unfortunately, the film feels a bit jumbled, as though there was simply too much to show us in too short a period of time. There are storylines that are tossed out there and never resolved. There is so much that the film wants to show us, but by putting too much out there, all of it is diluted.

The story of Brenda and what happened to her child on that fateful night ends up taking a back seat to the racial tensions that inevitably explode into violence. The clash between the police and the community felt clichéd and forced, kind of like the big car chase at the end of a thriller. It did nothing for me except lessen the impact of conclusion to the sad tale of a little, lost boy.

Joe Roth is better known as a producer than a director. His previous stints as a director were in comedies (America’s Sweethearts, Christmas with the Kranks). I find it admirable that he wants to turn his talents to the more serious side; I just think he might have been better off picking a less ambitious project. In the hands of more experienced director, this might have been a real tour de force that left you feeling troubled and wanting to talk about what you had seen. As it was, it was merely depressing.