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"Freedomland"

Directed by Joe Roth.
Written by Richard Price.  Based on the novel by Richard Price.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco and Ron Eldard.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  2/16/06

Folks-- 

Another day, another freebie--this go-round, it was the new kidnapped-kid/racial tension drama "Freedomland", by the same guy that wrote the similarly tense racial drama "Clockers", one of the few books I read during the 1990s.

Also based on a book (that is based on a real-life case), "Freedomland" takes place in New Jersey, 1999, where in a mostly-black community, a white mother named Brenda (Julianne Moore) shows up at a hospital one night with blood all over her hands and a strange story to back up her situation--she was carjacked by a mysterious black man, who failed to notice that her four-year-old son Cody was sitting in the backseat.  Now that the case is a kidnapping, long-tenured Detective Council (Samuel L. Jackson)--a respected cop in this particular neighborhood--meets with Brenda and tries to gather the facts that will help them rescue her son.  Complications arise early and often, and eventually, they lead down a totally different path from where we start the journey...but, the question remains: where the hell is Cody?

Two of the black D.C. radio stations--93.9 WKYS (hip-hop) and the Magic, 102.3 (R&B)--sponsored this viewing, and as such, we had a mix of younger black folks and older black folk, mixed in with some white folks that are part of the DC Film Society.  This, my friends, led to a fantastic and explosive audience, one that reacted like they were on a roller coaster during various racial profiling sequences or at any time when blacks and whites are, ahem, unharmonious onscreen.  Predictably, the community where the child has been kidnapped--98% black people--and the community's police force (strangely, about 80% white) are going to brawl, and in the buildup to this even our audience seemed mixed on what was going on.  The number of women behind me that screamed "crazy white bitch!" every time Moore's character was onscreen was just kind of funny to me, not because they were saying it, but because they were saying it so loud.  This led to other moments where black characters were just talkin', and white folk were laughing because the lines were so foreign to them; usually, a black guy saying "slow your roll" onscreen wouldn't make someone in the know laugh, but damn if it didn't get some of the older white folk sitting next to me to giggle, which led some of the black folk behind to shush the white folk, who were not amused.

What did all of this mean?  My audience ALONE added points for the overall viewing experience for me.  This audience was fired up!  They laughed hard whenever Sam smack-talked a colleague into submission; they gasped when characters were slapped, or beaten, or worse; they were stunned into silence watching Edie Falco do just about anything, playing the leader of an organization whose goal is to help track down kidnapped children.  A great audience adds so much to a movie, and it did it for me during "Freedomland", even IF about a half-dozen parents decided to use the movie theater as their MOTHER FUCKING DAY CARE CENTER, letting little Bobby and Sally run free LIKE FUCKING GAZELLES through the aisles of our theater, rarely heeding the calls of pissed-off audience members to TAKE THEIR FUCKING NOISEMAKER OUT OF THE THEATER TO LET THE KIDS COOL THEIR FUCKING HEELS!!!

Trust me, I love kids.  Just not in the theater.

Anyway, when I really thought about it, "Freedomland" does many things wrong but the drama is intense, lending an air of authenticity to another situation where we can't just all get along.  Moore really does sob and break down as well as, if not better than, any actress working today; she absolutely looks insane in this part, and one can only imagine how many takes it took to get her part right...how many times in a row can you do a minute-long jabbermouth routine where you are crying and trying to speak lovingly about your missing child?  This is far from Oscar-worthy work for Moore, but that's because of a so-so storyline, not because of her acting--this is why everyone loves the woman.  Sam looks world-weary in this role, not unlike Al Pacino did in "Insomnia" in terms of playing a part that he's played so many times before; by the time Sam, in character, is spouting off about being a cop "for 22 years", I just threw my hands up, as if to say

"Sam, come on, bro!  You've GOT to do something new!  Say 'motherfucker' backwards or some shit, but mix it up, baby!"

Seriously, he even gets to say "You can kiss my black ass!" in "Freedomland", which made me laugh 1) because the timing was perfect and 2) I'm certain he has played a character that has said "You can kiss my black ass!" at least five other times.  Could someone fact-check that for me?

Director Joe Roth has created a strong environment for his performers in "Freedomland"; odd, given how bad many of Roth's other efforts have been as a director and producer:  "Christmas with the Kranks", "America's Sweethearts", and "Hollywood Homicide" are recent examples of Roth's efforts in filmmaking, hardly superior work.  But he is aided by not only his two leads but strong support work from Ron Eldard as Brenda's cop brother, character vet William Forsythe as Council's partner and two of the guys from the HBO drama "The Wire", Clarke Peters and Domenick Lombardozzi.  While the ending is drawn out a bit--especially since we find out what really happened 20 minutes before the film eeks out a conclusion--the pacing for the first 90 minutes was excellent, introducing characters in due time and giving me a mix of race rioting, tension, kidnapping sequences and random beatdowns.

I think that on normal days, "Freedomland" would be a middle-of-the-road performer.  But, thanks to a free ticket and an audience to die for, I had a better time than some of you will.  Just don't shoot the messenger when you blow out.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09