Saturday, October 28, 2006

FILM REVIEW - Freedomland

Well, this film is a bit of a hotch-potch. From the opening jump edited title sequence one expected a very streetwise and stylish edgy thriller. This was misleading, for apart from two scenes later in the movie this style was completely missing from the rest of it. I believe this exemplifies the essential problem with the script and direction. It cannot make up it's mind what it is trying to do.

The story begins with a woman Brenda ( the inestimable Julianne Moore ) wandering with bloodied hands into a hospital. When the local good guy cop Lorenzo ( the ever reliable Samuel L Jackson ) appears, she tells him that her car was carjacked by a black man. Shortly Brenda reveals under pressure from Lorenzo that her young son was in the car. This sends everyone into a spin of hyperactivity and racial tension. As the movie progresses Brenda's testimony becomes increasingly suspect.... Themes of psychological trauma, racialism, police partiality and brutality and family dysfunction are flung around with reckless disregard for plot coherence.

If the movie just stuck with the psychology of its main characters, and kept it central, this would have been a great movie as opposed to an OK one. The script is perpetually throwing in more side stories and characters. With no time to be properly assimilated it leaves you confused. An unsatisfying feeling of having wandered into someone else's argument unprepared and issues being left unresolved, permeates the movie. For example there's Billy & Felicia's relationship, there's Lorenzo's imprisoned son, there's Lorenzo's relations with his white colleagues and the Police Force generally, there's the local black leader, Worst of all is Brenda's hot headed policeman brother Daniel. Who behaves erratically and violently,and is last see ten minutes from the end of the movie running off as if he's about to throttle someone, and is never seen again. This lack of focus is the result of a badly conceived script and means the movie leaks its compulsive energy.

The director,Joe Roth,has to take some of the flack for the flaws. I've already mentioned it's stylistic inconsistency. It also is appallingly lit ( read atmospheric ) and sound mixed. Soundtrack and dialogue seem to be constantly fighting for the fore ground. Important dialogue suddenly gets ramped up and the background music faded to grey and then back again. I understand the director Micheal Winterbottom began this film project and Roth picked it up when he ducked out. Not a good sign, but it might explain the stylistic schizophrenia.

The crowning glory of this movie is Moore and Jackson's performances. Without their superlative acting skills this movie would be dire. Unlike the dodgy 'The Forgotten', where Moore's believable psychological breakdown over the disappearance of her son, gets whisked away on the ludicrous whim of an alien abduction, her performance here has credibility and consistency. She is quite in her element when conveying deeply traumatic inner conflicts. Though we never get a sense of what she was like when she was less kooky and more normal. Likewise, Jackson's character has these internal dilemmas and symptoms which are never fully explained like his asthma and family background. Within the limitations of the script both have done what they can. As a result they lift this movie several notches higher than it really deserves.


What is it with Special Features on DVD's? Generally they are so insubstantial as to be hardly worth there trumpeting it across the front of their cases. The worst aspects are the commentaries or making of the movie features. These fall into two camps. The first is a fawning luvvie fest, where director and actors fall over themselves to ensure they get more work. They can never imagine anyone else playing the part of the axe wielding masked murderer. The director is a genius, so sensitive and appreciative of the actors craft you'd have thought he'd helped them give birth to Jesus. The second camp, is where everyone knows this film is an out and out pile of poo, so all concerned rally round to justify its existence,defend this turkeys artistic credibility and fail dismally. We have just watched it after all, we know all too well.

On 'Freedomland' the writer justifies his script by saying he's lived most of his life in such districts, so understands what he's writing about. Not from the evidence before my eyes. Besides I'd have preferred not to see him, he's in his fifties, white, wrinkled and unshaven, with a fully tonsured head of luminous auburn hair. The set designer, talking about the setting for the black ghetto, said he'd chosen the area because it reminded him of an Escher drawing. I mean please! credit me with at least one brain cell to work with at least. Though maybe I've missed the point and these special features are really meant for geeks only.

The best Special Features I've seen recently were on the DVD for 'The Hours'. The luvviedom was kept to a minimum. All the movie making features genuinely helped you understand the creative choices made and the background to the subject matter of the script. The Director of that movie was Stephen Daldry, a highly experienced English Theatre Director. Perhaps I'm just repulsed by American sentimentality and their slushy sense of what is 'meaningful and profound'.

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