In FREEDOMLAND, Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Lorenzo, spends a great deal of time professing his belief in God. There is nothing in his life or in the lives of anyone around him that would back up that belief, never mind that at one point he proclaims that after 22 years of being a cop, he has no reason to see good in anyone. It’s the sort of dichotomy that, in competent hands, might lead to the sort of tension and character exploration that makes for a satisfying cinematic experience. Alas, that is not the case.
Set, for no readily apparent reason, in 1999, Lorenzo’s latest investigation is one that threatens to explode into a race riot if everyone one both sides doesn’t carefully watch his or her step. Brenda (Julianne Moore) was driving through the wrong side of town, the one by the projects that is, with her four-year-old son asleep in the backseat when she was the victim of a carjacking. The perpetrator sped off not realizing that he had gotten more than a vehicle. That xxx is the ex-junkie sister of a detective from the other side of town, the white side, that is, only sets everyone even more on edge, while XXXX’s selfless work at the project’s child care center fails to mitigate much either.
It has all the makings of a taut drama full of social commentary and insights into human nature. It rolls out, though, as convoluted, contrived, and just a bit confusing. There is the de rigeur beating of the black suspect hauled in on a minor charge, there is the sullen distrust on all sides that blows up in Lorenzo’s face, there is the revelation that flies out of left field at Mach 2 and then just sort of sits there, adding nothing to the proceedings but an embarrassed pause in the proceedings.
Jackson and Moore give it their all, but under the less-than-expert direction of Joe Roth, he’s more cream puff than pacifist, and Moore, under similar constraints, stumbles through the role as though just roused from a fitful slumber. The worst of it, though, are the long monologues that might have looked very good on paper in the novel by Richard Price on which the screenplay by said author is based, but which fall flat and vaguely silly when declaimed. Only Edie Falco, as the leader of a citizen’s group that organizes searches for missing kids, rises above the morass. Focused, centered, and emotionally true, she takes the cliché role with an even more cliché secret and runs with it for all she’s worth.
FREEDOM land commits the cardinal sin of being overly earnest, ponderous and dull, except for those interludes when it’s being dull and witless. The audience forced to sit through it comes away not with any sense of the human condition, just the aching sadness of having wasted two hours or so of precious life.