Freedomland is based on a big, important book by author Richard Price. At 500 pages Price had the opportunity to explore the racially charged atmosphere that erupts after a white woman says an African-American man stole her car with her 4-year-old son sleeping in the backseat.
Unfortunately the movie struggles with presenting the same incendiary material as the book. This means that many stories are started, but few are resolved. Perhaps it is the burden of trying to adapt a lengthy novel into a two-hour movie, but the filmmakers seem to be trying to cram too much story into the film. The result is a disjointed movie that tries hard to shed some light on a variety of topics such as the plight of missing children, how the police and press only seem interested in this case because the missing child was white and the alleged perpetrator was black and how racial tension bubbles just below the surface in America’s inner cities. All good topics for a film, but Freedomland would have been a better movie if writer Price and director Joe Roth had just chosen one angle on the story and stuck with it.
Headlining the film are three very good actors—Julianne Moore, Samuel L. Jackson and Edie Falco—whose uneven performances range from flat to hysterical. As a Susan Smith type of character the hollow-eyed Julianne Moore—one of the best actors of her generation—does not do her best work here. The gnashing of teeth and blankly staring into space do not a performance make. She’s better than this, and hopefully next time out she’ll be back in top form.
Old pro Jackson manages to breathe some life into a stock character, although as a policeman he seems woefully unaware of any kind of police procedure. How many times would a real cop entrust an unstable victim to strangers with the words “Keep an eye on her”?
Falco is so stoic she seems to be in a different movie. None of them is aided by the script which features lengthy, wordy speeches that seem more stage worthy than cinematic.
Freedomland feels like it was made with the best of intentions but its bumbled execution renders the material trite and superficial.