Review by Paul Stathakis | February 15, 2006

Bren­da Mar­tin (Julianne Moore) walks into a New Jer­sey hos­pi­tal with her palms cov­ered in blood and tears run­ning down her face. Soon after, we learn about her tragedy as she explains it to Loren­zo Coun­cil (Samuel L. Jack­son), a good-natured detec­tive. He lis­tens to Bren­da care­ful­ly but is impa­tient with her tes­ti­mo­ny.

Bren­da states that her car was thieved by a black stranger while her 4-year-old son Cody was asleep in the back­seat. This con­fes­sion alarms Loren­zo who quick­ly becomes deter­mined to find Brenda’s son, and ear­ly on in the film he makes a pledge. “I will not rest until I find your son,” says Loren­zo to Bren­da in one of the film’s more gen­tle moments.

”Free­dom­land” is a thriller set in the town of Arm­strong, New Jer­sey, where vio­lence is not news to the towns­peo­ple. In fact, there are scenes in “Free­dom­land” that sug­gest the movie is not entire­ly about the search of a Cau­casian boy but about the racial con­flict in present-day Amer­i­ca.

Loren­zo is torn between Brenda’s case and the vio­lence that haunts the peo­ple of Arm­strong. A black man, both­ered by the strength of the hunt, ques­tions whether a search this intense would be orga­nized if a black child were miss­ing instead.

As the film advances and Brenda’s tes­ti­monies echo in Lorenzo’s mind, he begins to see holes in her sto­ry. Karen Col­lu­ci (Edie Fal­co), an activist belong­ing to a search team which looks for miss­ing chil­dren, offers to help Loren­zo with his inves­ti­ga­tion. A piv­otal scene sur­faces when the cen­tral char­ac­ters vis­it a bro­ken-down insti­tu­tion which one tor­tured chil­dren with cer­tain dis­abil­i­ties. There, Col­lu­ci implores reverse psy­chol­o­gy to get an answer from Bren­da.

Falco’s calm and wit­ty por­tray­al is some­thing to admire in a film where sto­ry is eclipsed by per­for­mance. The same could be said about Samuel L. Jack­son, whose char­ac­ter in “Free­dom­land” is lik­able but per­haps a lit­tle vague. Jack­son shines in sev­er­al scenes thanks to his co-star, Julianne Moore, who is just as force­ful, if not haunt­ing, in this role.

The film will appeal to those who yearn for ordi­nary mys­tery tales. Those in search of a sub­stan­tive dra­ma or thriller may be dis­ap­point­ed in light of the pre­ten­tious con­clu­sion that forces view­ers to absorb an insipid res­o­lu­tion. “Free­dom­land” is rarely able to tick­le our curios­i­ty because of its lack of direc­tion. Is it about a miss­ing boy or, real­ly, a look at town with racial­ist quar­rels? In the end, “Free­dom­land” is a prime exam­ple of a pic­ture that wants to be heard but doesn’t know exact­ly what it wants to say.

 

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