February 17, 2006


Directed by Joe Roth Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Hollywood types have their minds on race relations these days, as evidenced by the emergence of Crash as a bona fide Best Picture Oscar contender. Clockers author Richard Price’s novel Freedomland, which revolves around a white kid gone missing in the projects and the ensuing racial discord, is receiving opportune big-screen treatment. Under the direction of part-time helmer/fulltime studio honcho Joe Roth, the film feels like a generic whodunit attempting to pass as a weighty Spike Lee joint or a Jonathan Demme social weepie.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare and then some: Her four-year-old son was sitting in the back seat when a carjacker sped off with her vehicle. Brenda (Julianne Moore) describes the perpetrator as a black man, thus leading to a standoff between the residents and the predominantly white police force. Det. Council (Samuel L. Jackson) knows his way around the ’hood, and tries to stem a potential riot while sleuthing for a suspect and the missing child. But Brenda’s hotheaded cop brother Danny (Ron Eldard) interferes with Council’s investigation and intervention while also betraying her shady past.

Originally slated for a late-’05 release complete with a campaign built around Moore’s central performance, the film ultimately sat out the crowded awards season. Moore is indeed powerful, but she does little to salvage this generic and rather unconvincing mystery halfheartedly dressed up as social inquiry. The film ponders racial profiling and police brutality every time its plots stall. While its take on race is more substantial than the parade of animated caricatures in Crash, Freedomland still comes off as inconsequential due to its laughably absurd resolution.

© Copyright 2006 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.