Freedomland (2006, Joe Roth)

I didn’t see Freedomland when it came out because I loved the novel and Richard Price adapting the novel or not, the movie’s cast and crew aren’t encouraging it. No movie directed by Joe Roth should inspire confidence, especially not one about racism. Freedomland is about racism. It’s about the really uncomfortable realities of racism. Not racist cops, but racist people. The film opens telling the viewer it takes place in 1999, which when the novel should have been adapted. Possibly even starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in the leads. Possibly with the entire supporting cast intact. But not with Joe Roth directing. Not directing it in Panavision aspect. Not with really slick photography from Anastas N. Michos and awful slick rapid fire editing from Nick Moore. Not with the James Newton Howard occasionally upbeat score. Not with sunny-time super-producer Scott Rudin apparently hunting down a Crash Oscar of his own. Because that Freedomland, this Freedomland, it refuses to call any white characters racist. It refuses to let the racist white cops be racist. It’s particularly mortifying and embarrassing because it’s all post-production neutering. It’s obviously shot Super 35 too, so they even cropped it to this nonsense.

Though someone tried hard to give Jackson as much slack as the frame would allow. Moore’s performance is an unsalvageable train wreck. Roth can’t direct actors, but Freedomland’s cast doesn’t need for direction. They need for some kind of honesty, which just isn’t present in the filmmaking. They need verisimilitude and Roth doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s about a black cop (Jackson) suspecting a white woman (Moore), who works exclusively with black people in the projects–specifically black children–is lying about a black guy kidnapping her son. The point of Freedomland is it can’t be more about race if it tried. And Roth and Rudin reduce the film to a ball-less Hallmark movie. It’s unclear how responsible Price is for it, because some of the responsibility is definitely on him. The post-production can be responsible for the atrocious, offensive editing of a riot scene, but the film gets to that riot scene because of Price’s script, because of how he handles the characters. Freedomland is half-assed filmmaking from people who know better. Even Roth should know better. It’s why he shoots it Super 35, so he doesn’t have to commit to anything while actually directing the actors.

Jackson tries. It’s a good part. It’s a poorly written part in what’s a disastrous film, but it’s a good part. And he does try hard. He does fall into a lot of his acting tropes and he never manages any chemistry with Moore, but it’s an admirable performance.

Edie Falco’s great. It’s embarrassing watching Moore opposite Falco. Her part’s terrible, even just going off the script, but she’s great. While Roth’s direction screws up a lot of the part, Price’s script isn’t there for the character.

Good support from William Forsythe. Moore-levels of train wreck from Ron Eldard as her racist cop brother. He and Moore don’t really have any scenes together, which is good because some kind of singularity would occur if they actually had to act at each other under Roth’s incompetent direction. Aunjanue Ellis’s fine. Lots to do in a lame part. She does what she can. Same goes for Clarke Peters and Anthony Mackie.

LaTonya Richardson Jackson stands out; she gets actual chemistry off Jackson, which no one else in the film gets. It’s hard not to assume its because they’re married off screen.

Freedomland is hard to watch and not for any of the reasons it should be hard to watch. It’s opportunistic, insincere and overproduced. If it were well-acted, well-directed, well-anything, it might be interesting as a failure. Instead, it’s even worth a footnote. Except as one of Jackson’s stronger performances. And as one of Moore’s worst.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Roth; screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel; director of photography, Anastas N. Michos; edited by Nick Moore; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Scott Rudin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Council), Julianne Moore (Brenda), Edie Falco (Karen), William Forsythe (Boyle), Ron Eldard (Danny Martin), Aunjanue Ellis (Felicia), Clarke Peters (Reverend Longway), Anthony Mackie (Billy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Sullivan), Fly Williams III (Rafik), Dorian Missick (Jason) and Peter Friedman (Lt. Gold).


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