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Freedomland (February 16/06)

Based on the book by Richard Price, Freedomland is an entertaining (if thoroughly uneven) look at the consequences of a crime perpetrated against a white victim in a predominantly black neighborhood. Though it runs almost two hours, the film ultimately feels too short to properly service Price's 736-page tome; one can easily envision this story working a whole lot better in a novel, where all the various subplots and characters are able to effectively unfold at their own pace.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Lorenzo Council, a haggard detective who has long-since established himself as a positive presence amongst the residents of the local housing projects. Problems emerge after Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) stumbles into an ER claiming that she was carjacked in that same neighborhood, a claim that - following the revelation that her four-year-old son was in the car - forces the police to essentially shut down the area (ie nobody is allowed to come or go). Though Lorenzo has his doubts about Brenda's story, he teams up with the distraught woman in an effort to solve the case before the seething residents take matters into their own hands.

Before Freedomland deteriorates into a muddled, over-ambitious mess, it's actually a fairly intriguing mystery/drama revolving around the disappearance of Brenda's child. Because Brenda is a less-than-reliable witness - it's revealed that she has, in the past, had problems with drug abuse - Lorenzo (and, by association, the viewer) isn't quite sure how much of what Brenda is saying actually happened.

But the film soon becomes bogged down with ponderous dialogue and preachy plot developments, and essentially mutates into a heavy-handed look at race relations with all the subtlety of a Spike Lee flick. If not for the exemplary performances all around - Jackson and Moore are good, but it's Edie Falco and Ron Eldard's supporting work that really kicks things into high gear - it'd be a lot more difficult to overlook the film's various deficiencies.

out of

© David Nusair