"A black man did it."
Hear that line, and watch Samuel L. Jackson, playing a do-gooder cop, shrink in
his own skin. Lorenzo Council has fought the good fight and been a neighborhood
peacekeeper for the troubled projects in fictional Dempsey, N.J.
But when he hears those awful words, connected to a car-jacking, he lets us see
his heart break. It’s a tribute to Jackson, offering up his best, most engaged
performance in a decade, that we share Lorenzo’s fears for what this accusation
could mean, his compassion for the victim, and his doubts about her, all at once.
Freedomland is so well-acted, so poignantly written, that you can almost forget
its excesses and shortcomings and embrace it for what it is – a serious writer’s
exploration of racism, cop mob mentality and the mechanics of guilt.
Richard Price, adapting his own novel, comes at the case from an angle - giving
a mother who says she’s lost her son to a car-jacker a match and a fuse to
light with it, and a city that could explode if she isn’t validated or discredited.
A bloody, shocked woman – played by Julianne Moore – has staggered into
a hospital. What happened to her? It’s Lorenzo’s job to find out.
"Brenda" doesn’t give up her secrets easily. She’s seriously
out of it. We learn she used to be a junkie. But she’s clean, she says. She’s
the sister of a cop from a neighboring (and whiter) city. And her work in a day-care
center has made her a popular figure in those same projects.
Until, she says, a black man knocked her down and took her car. With her 4-year-old-son
Jackson leaves it all on the court with this performance, an asthmatic detective
who can’t keep a lid on her accusations or his doubts about them. The pose
is gone, the Coach Carter strut. His sermonizing here is Price’s preaching,
a man who has to find the kid, or get the mother to admit to killing him, before
the racial tensions between police departments and a "lock-down" of
an entire neighborhood blow up on him.
Moore has played this distraught mother before, but never with this wastrel’s
edge. Edie Falco, setting herself up for a solid Frances McDormand/post-"Sopranos
career," plays the leader of a volunteer group that searches for lost children.
Freedomland has the classic thriller’s "ticking clock," compelling
characters and occasional bursts of urgency, as when Lorenzo first discovers there’s
a child involved (an asthma attack kicks in). But it is never concerned enough
with maintaining mystery. And it loses itself to too many "actor’s scenes"
– long, literate monologues that play beautifully on the page but in a movie
sound written, not thought of on the spot.
Jackson has wasted an awful lot of his career on movies that brought him closer
to the right golf courses or the big checks. Yes, this is deep within his comfort
zone. But it’s great to see him lose the strut, the pose and the too-cool
preaching, and get – as Jules put it so perfectly in Pulp Fiction –
his "game face on."
Film: Movie Reviews [Freedomland]
By Roger Moore
Article posted on 2/21/2006
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