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Freedomland

dir: Joe Roth
[img_assist|nid=833|title=Terrible, just terrible goddamn film|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
As the old phrase goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also drenched in an oil slick of egotism, smug righteousness and self-delusion.

Freedomland is a terrible mess of a film made by a director who hasn’t made a semi-decent movie in his entire career, unless you count Revenge of the Nerds II.

The plot isn’t the worst thing about this film, nor are (all) the acting performances, or its pacing or length, width or girth. The biggest problem is Julianne Moore’s performance as one of the main characters. For someone who’s considered to be so good, goddamn does she stink up the joint with her surreal attempts to act ‘down’. She is completely and fundamentally unbelievable in the role.

She plays Brenda, a recovering junkie whose son has gone missing. She works at a community outreach centre near some New Jersey projects, and tells police that she was carjacked with her son in the back seat on the way home.

Because her brother is a policeman in an adjoining borough, and because she’s white, the police go berserk on the projects, locking them down in order to find the kid.

Samuel L. Jackson’s job as policeman Lorenzo Council is to not sound and act like he does in everything else, whether it be Pulp Fiction or Snakes on a Plane, and he does an okay job by not screaming constantly and by being the voice of conciliation at all times. He wants to find the annoying white woman’s son, but he also wants to help out the erstwhile citizens of the projects, which he feels protective of. He has built up a rapport with the residents and their community, and feels like he’s a part of it despite not living there.

Of course, at the first sign of trouble, the police will accuse him of protecting the residents, and the residents will blame him for all the police activities that start off heavy-handed and degenerate into the kind of jackboot fascism that we all dread but secretly crave.

The plot perhaps isn’t that bad, and the racial/socio-political stuff isn’t badly handled, even if it is a bit hamfisted, as in fistfuls of ham leaping out and punching the audience in the face. Isn’t that a disturbing image, a straining fist with ham squeezing out from between the fingers? Ewwww.

Anyway, even with all that, Moore’s insane performance still torpedoes the best intentions of script, incompetent direction and the other actors. I find it fascinating that people aren’t pointing at Julianne Moore in the street and abusing her in public for this incredible performance. Take all your stereotypes about drug users and white trash, and imagine having your mum try to act them out in long, nonsensical scenes where she’s just yelling unstoppably at the Jackson character. And have her try to sound upset and hysterical, for which she just sounds like she’s hyperventilating for long stretches at a time. That’s how embarrassing it is.

Of course, the preceding analogy is dependant on the fact that your mother is neither white trash nor a drug user. If she is, well, Moore’s performance pales in comparison with what your mum could do, and would have done a substantially better job in the role.

I wonder whether it was just impossible for the director to tell an actress of Moore’s calibre that she was just stinking up the film with her overacting. When you’re director Joe Roth, and the highest profile film you’ve made is Revenge of the Nerds II, clearly, someone of Moore’s respectability and stature gets to dictate to YOU how things are going to go. Somehow, he was able to get Samuel L to dial it down, which is a Herculean feat in and of itself, but not Moore, so he should at least be given partial credit for that much.

In the same way, however, that credit debt destroys many a person’s life and sends them bankrupt, credit doesn’t save this from being the execrable flick that it becomes.

When it seems obvious that there’s something else going on, the search for a kidnap victim becomes a search for a body. The mother is still adamant that the boy was kidnapped, but also gets all dreamy, as if she really doesn’t know what’s going on around her, which makes her an even more profoundly annoying character. From manically irritating she transforms, reverse butterfly-like, into a creepy retard.

Edie Falco co-stars as the equally creepy head of a strange organisation that does its darndest to find the bodies of kids that go ‘missing’. A noble intention, to be sure, to be sure, but I’m not sure they were meant to come across as deeply strange as they do. Instead of coming across as a group of giving, compassionate people who want to help parents out, or, even better, manipulate people into telling them where they stashed their children’s bodies, they come across as a strange cult. If that was the intention, then Falco, best known for playing the incredible Carmella Soprano in the show whose title matches that surname, did a great job. Otherwise, it’s naff as can be believed.

None of the subject matter or the racial complexities are really that much of a problem here: as painful as I find films about children in peril now, I’m not above watching them, and racial conflict in films is an American pastime. It’s very much that the performances don’t match the material, and don’t seem to be occurring in the same film.

The film builds to two climaxes the way a spayed dog can sometimes still have a go at someone’s leg or one of their couch cushions. In the same way the dog gets no satisfaction, the eruption of violence at the projects and the big speech by one of the main characters at the end explaining everything both fizzle out to nothingness.

I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the writer, Richard Price, who’s written some decent urban doorstops like Clockers and Samaritan. His books usually are fairly entertaining and straight-forward, and ready fodder for movie conversions. The blame rests with the actors, the screenplay, the director and the producers for foisting this overbaked crap onto an unsuspecting audience.

3 times I’d rather stick a rusty nail through my testicles than ever hear Julianne Moore as this character ever again out of 10

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“Thanks a lot, brotherfucker.” - Freedomland

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