Freedomland is an overblown drama that leads nowhere, despite its fervent attempts at hard-hitting social commentary.
Taken from real-life news headlines, Freedomland is a story we've heard before. A woman, Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), shows up at a hospital in Dempsey--a mostly black working class New Jersey suburb--bloodied and disoriented from shock. She claims she was carjacked by a black man in the neighborhood, and when Dempsey police detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson) questions her further, she confesses her four year-old son was asleep in the backseat when it happened. This causes an immediate reaction from the police, who swarmed into Dempsey and stir up long-simmering racial tensions there. But the more Lorenzo probes, the more Brenda's story starts to fall apart. Now, it's a race against time as Lorenzo, along with the help of a missing children activist (Edie Falco), tries to uncover the truth before a riot breaks out on his turf.
With such a powerful cast, Freedomland would seem to have "Oscar-nominated performances" stamped all over it. But unfortunately, the talented actors are brought down by the film's dreariness. Jackson, who can usually turn in a decent performance in just about anything he does, can't really offer too much more than playing his usual tough cop. He's just trying to keep the peace while getting to the bottom of the mystery. Moore's weepy and confused Brenda, on the other hand, is who really grates. Moore is only doing her job, of course, but it's difficult to sit through her long emotional soliloquies--even though you know you're suppose to be moved--because you're just sitting there, hoping someone would just haul off and smack her. Falco actually does the best job in the film. Doing a 180 degree turn from The Sopranos' Carmela, the actress convinces us she's a hardened woman whose whole life has become looking for missing children, having lost one herself. You definitely wish there was more of her.
Director/producer Joe Roth, known more for helming comedies (Christmas with the Kranks), ventures into heavy drama for the first time with Freedomland. Not a wise move; clearly he should stick to what he knows best. He probably figured with a cast like that, all he had to do was turn the camera on them and let them do their stuff. Acting! Genius! Unfortunately, in his admiration, he forgot about building tension or giving the film a thread. Of course, Richard Price's (Shaft) clichéd script, which he adapted from his novel, doesn't help matters, especially in how ineffectively it tries to create the racial confrontations in the neighborhood. There's very little back story on why it would get so out of hand so quickly. If you want a more realistic portrayal of such things, rent the Oscar-nominated Crash.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.