- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ever grouse about the nonstop coverage given to missing women such as Natalee Holloway and Laci Peterson while countless others — particularly black women — disappear without so much as a headline?

“Freedomland” uses that resentment as kindling and lets a frantic single mother in the Susan Smith mold light the match.

Based on the novel by author Richard Price — who writes the screenplay here — “Freedomland” brims with racial injustice and bruised feelings with no hope of healing. The film, like the Oscar-nominated “Crash,” doesn’t let any party off the hook — it’s fair and balanced in its evisceration.

The closest we get to a hero is Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a cop desperately straddling the lines between his badge and his skin color.

Mr. Jackson’s Lorenzo Council works the Dempsey projects in a New Jersey neighborhood, the kind where it pays to have the trust of the people.

That bond is broken when he is brought in to investigate a carjacking claim by a distraught woman named Brenda (Julianne Moore). The man who took her car was a young black male, which casts a pall of suspicion over the projects.

Brenda’s story is emotional and hardly coherent, but Lorenzo stiffens when she haltingly reveals her 4-year-old son Cody was in the back seat at the time of the carjacking.

The interrogation, which spins on Brenda’s reportage, is jolting enough for most directors to play straight. Not “Freedomland’s” Joe Roth. He turns the moment into a jumpy, hyperkinetic ride — when all we want is to hear what happened.

Lorenzo’s partner (the reliable William Forsythe) tries to keep his fellow detective off the case, but Lorenzo has his own missing son of sorts — he’s doing time for robbery. Those ties lash him to Brenda’s cause.

Soon, the local police have all but shut down the projects, and the neighbors rightly question the move when plenty of their black sons and daughters have either gone missing or been killed without this level of interest.

Lorenzo is caught between finding the carjacker and keeping the peace in the increasingly hostile projects, all the while pulling at loose threads in Brenda’s slowly unraveling story.

Mr. Jackson, given the chance to dig into a character after paycheck pickups in “The Man” and “XXX: State of the Union,” makes Lorenzo into a complex antihero, one this morally conflicted tale sorely needs.

“Freedomland” doesn’t just hold a magnifying glass up to societal injustices, it peers into the world of child abductions, a realm where volunteers wait to scour the nearest park for clues. Head of the New Jerseyite pack is Karen Collucci (Edie Falco), who lost her own son 10 years ago and knows exactly how to wring every resource out of the community.

The mobilization scenes come off as fresh and rewarding, thanks largely to Miss Falco. Her crucial scenes with Miss Moore remind us, in the wake of yet another interminable “Sopranos” holiday, of the quiet intensity she brings to the screen.

The same can’t be said for Miss Moore, who, after dazzling so gently in last year’s “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” is back to hysterical mode here. While, beat for beat, there’s little wrong with the performance, she never rallies the audience to Brenda’s side, and that’s a fatal blow.

Mr. Roth, better known for his producing credits, still hasn’t found his groove behind the camera (“Christmas With the Kranks,” “America’s Sweethearts”).

“Freedomland” raises some disturbing questions en route to a taut, if predictable, resolution. If only Miss Moore hadn’t played the ham card so relentlessly, it might have touched us in ways a story like this should.

**1/2

TITLE: “Freedomland”

RATING: R (Adult language, violence, mature themes and disturbing imagery)

CREDITS: Directed by Joe Roth. Written by Richard Price from his novel of the same name.

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.com/

movies/freedomland/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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