"Freedomland" is not a subtle film. In fact, it's the equivalent of being whacked repeatedly in the forehead by an eight-year-old with a baseball bat, so it has the doubly annoying effect of not only being painful, but leaving that persistent thwacking sound ringing in your ears. Put another way, it's about as subtle as being shot in the face by the Vice President.
This should not be surprising given that the film is directed by Joe Roth, whose director credits consist of "Christmas with the Kranks" (a movie that should have gotten him banned from the planet), "America's Sweethearts," "Coupe de Ville," "Revenge of the Nerds II" and "Streets of Gold." How can a filmmaker sport such a toxic repertoire yet still be allowed to make movies? Simple: Just be head of Revolution Studios, a neat trick that Roth pulled off that gives him carte blanche to make, rewrite, direct or otherwise disgrace any film he likes.
As we all know, incredibly rich and powerful white men have vast insight into class and race issues, making Roth the perfect person to tell a story about Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), a woman who claims her son was abducted by a black man during a carjacking, setting off a firestorm between police and residents in two adjoining neighborhoods.v
I say "claims" because it's obvious to everyone in the audience that Martin isn't telling the whole story to Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson). For it to be more obvious, Martin would have to be walking around with a bowling bag leaking blood. It's also no coincidence that Council is so named as he gives enough wise counsel to earn a degree from Dr. Phil's Online School of Ill-Advised Pseudo-Psychology. If that's not enough, music is always blaring ominously to make sure the audience knows that the entire situation is ominous.
Julianne Moore gets to act down, which is much like dressing down. Roth simply doesn't know what to do with his actors and he allows his camera to linger on them long after they're done adding anything to a scene and long after the point is made, meaning is achieved, and the audience is looking around to see if anyone is left who doesn't get it. Both Edie Falco, who plays the leader of a group that searches for lost kids, and Ron Eldard, who plays Brenda's overbearing and simple-minded cop brother, deliver performances that are all but crushed under the weight of a leaden script.
I walked out of "Freedomland" trying to figure out what relevance the title had to the movie. Despite the fact that the meaning, like everything else in the film, was right there in front of my face, I preferred an alternate interpretation: that I was finally free to leave the theater.
To spread the word about this Freedomland review on Twitter.To get instant updates of Mr. Cranky reviews, subscribe to our RSS feed.