When a hysterical woman (Julianne Moore) arrives at a hospital claiming that her 4-year-old son, Cody, has been abducted, the police immediately rise to the occasion. All she can say is that her car was stolen with the child in the backseat, and that “a black man did it.” Since the crime happened outside the all-black Armstrong housing complex, an indiscriminate manhunt ensues.
Heading the hunt is Armstrong resident and community elder Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson), a man who has personally charged himself with keeping his neighborhood’s younger generation in school and out of trouble. Council strives to keep outsiders away, and works fiercely to find the stolen car and missing boy before the police tear the neighborhood apart looking for a scapegoat. Lorenzo is the first to question the entire story, bearing in mind that 1 out of 10 missing children are reported by the very people who made them disappear.
Though her role in Freedomland is almost identical to the one she played in The Forgotten, Julianne Moore shines as the lost and grieving mother. The one difference is that her character in Freedomland gives up, lapsing into resigned grief over her son, while the mother in The Forgotten fights fiercely to the end to protect her daughter’s memory. In both roles, it’s impossible to tell if she’s operating out of conviction and passion, or if she truly is insane.
Samuel L. Jackson has over 150 roles to his credit, and is known as a workhorse in the industry. That is, he’ll take whatever role is offered, regardless of quality, as long as it keeps him busy. Thankfully, Freedomland is no Snakes on a Plane (he played both roles in 2006) – this really is an excellent fit for Jackson’s talents combined with an excellent plot. Though the script failed him in the end, Samuel L. Jackson certainly didn’t fail the movie. His character puts the issue of racial profiling front and center. When all is said and done, Council is the one who drives the true point of this tale home.
Freedomland focuses on two different subjects – the racial profiling of “a black man did it,” and the emotional impact on people whose children have gone missing. Unfortunately, trying to cram both into one 2-hour movie just dilutes the point, and it ends up falling flat on both. Apparently it is based on a bestselling book, which might explain it seems like they just haven’t told the whole story.
In the first half of Freedomland, the story focuses on inappropriate police actions within an all-black housing project and Council’s mad dash to protect his community. Sadly, while each scene is well-crafted on this point, they’re not well-connected – the story comes out stilted and confusing.
As if the racial profiling and the violation of human rights by police point wasn’t already diluted enough, it switches near the end and becomes about grief over a missing child. What started out as a promising film wraps up in maudlin scenes of misplaced sympathy. It took the edge off the message and turned the whole movie into little better than a slightly violent soap opera.
If Freedomland had stuck to the racial profiling point and developed it better, this could have been a runaway 5-star movie. The title suggested that that’s what they would do, and the setup is perfect for a really strong human rights message. Cut out the tear-filled scenes, drop a bomb at the end that shows how senseless the whole charade was, and leave it at that. That’s a movie I’d buy. As is, I doubt I’ll ever even watch it a second time.
To give it credit, Freedomland features some strong performances and about an hour of really absorbing storytelling. I won’t say it’s a complete waste, and certainly worth watching once – but you may want to rent it, because it’s fairly likely that once will be enough for you too.
Overall, it’s hard to tell if Freedomland suffered from a lack of focus, a poor script, or just an editing hack job. It had all the elements to really blow away viewers, and it flopped. I suppose it can happen to anyone, but it seems that if you’re going to spend over $37 million on a movie, then it would be worth taking just a little extra time to wrap it up smoothly.
Disclaimer notice: I have no affiliation with the producers of Freedomland, or anyone else associated with the film. I have not been offered compensation for this review by anyone connected to the movie. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.