Freedomland (Sony Pictures, R)

The issues of racism raised in the film are both relevant and insightful, and they would be even more effective if they had been given more time to be fleshed out.

 

The problem with a film like Freedomland is it can’t decide what kind of a movie it wants to be. Instead of picking one genre and sticking to it, Freedomland tries to be both a thriller and a drama, and ultimately it spreads itself thin on both fronts.

The film’s story is set in 1999 and looks at life between the residents of the mostly black Armstrong housing projects and the mostly white neighboring town of Gannon. Tensions between the two sides have been on the rise for some time, with police officers from Gannon regularly going outside of their jurisdiction to arrest residents of Armstrong, which Armstrong residents are none too thrilled about. It’s primarily through the work of Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson), a detective and former Armstrong resident, that nothing more than heated arguments ever amount from the confrontations between Armstrong and Gannon.

Things get complicated for Lorenzo one night when Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), a white woman from Gannon and former drug addict, stumbles into a hospital and claims to have been carjacked near Armstrong by a black man. The real problem however is that Brenda’s four-year-old son was asleep in the back of the car when it was stolen.

Word of the kidnapping soon reaches Brenda’s brother Danny (Ron Eldard), a cop from Gannon, and within hours the Gannon police have barricaded Armstrong so that no one can enter or leave. The Gannon police assume that eventually Armstrong’s residents will become so restless by this that anyone who knows anything about the kidnapping will come forward in order to end the siege. Up to this point, Freedomland plays out (effectively) like a suspense thriller. Jackson and Moore are particularly good as the cop feverishly looking for a missing child and the unstable mother who may or may not be revealing all that she knows. But then the film becomes solely a morality tale. The lockdown of Armstrong worsens the tension between its residents and Gannon, and Lorenzo spends the rest of the movie trying to stop a riot while investigating how much of Brenda’s story is actually true.

Freedomland tries to do too much. The race to find Brenda’s son in the first half of the film shows its potential as a thriller, but the resolution of the carjacking is too anticlimactic. The issues of racism raised in the film are both relevant and insightful, and they would be even more effective if they had been given more time to be fleshed out. Instead, it’s left up to Jackson to convey both the anger of Armstrong’s residents and also act as the moral conscience of the film, and while Jackson gives his all, he can’t be expected to carry everything himself. As a result, the film’s message on racial equality feels force-fed.

Freedomland could have been a great thriller or a great drama, but it can’t be both.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply