Review: “Freedomland”

Countless times before we have seen movie adaptations of a novel very rarely live up to the calibre of the source material whether it be through changes in the material, lack of production values or just the inability to turn a complex and deep narrative into a simple feature-length story. Not often though will you find a movie where if you haven’t read the book, you can still see the markings of a great piece of work hopelessly buried under inept filmmaking which has rendered what could’ve been a powerful piece of work into a shambles.

That kind of misfire can be seen in “Freedomland”, a film with a gritty look, quality actors and a potent interesting story about race relations in America that has become lost in a sea of poor editing and hopeless direction. Helmer Joe Roth seems so desperate to come off as trying to say something that in the process he forgets what it is he actually has to say. The result is something that despite its more potent message, is every bit as stilted and overbearing as his hideous “Christmas with the Kranks”.

The blame can’t be held on the actors who do their usual strong work – Jackson, Moore and Falco all try their hardest with what they have, but the characters are never really interesting and start to grate after a while – especially Moore. One sequence in particular towards the end has Moore breaking out into an excruciating ten-minute monologue spoken mostly in screeches and blubbering, yet by the end it actually makes us less sympathetic towards her.

Even Falco, a far more restrained and interesting figure than either of our leads, has a good monologue that drags on way past the point of logic or reason that it undermines much of the good will the audience has built up. Much of the rest of the cast leaves no impression (Ron Eldard is a waste for example), leaving only Jackson to come out unscathed. His character is a little more world weary and vulnerable than his usual cocky screen persona, and he’s able to turn even the most predictable of material (in this case a subplot about his imprisoned son) into some touching and effecting moments – even if at times the character never quite comes together.

Price’s story can only be partly to blame. Whilst it does go on too long and the suspenseful moments are only brief, there’s a refreshing sense of thought and substance underneath the more cliched moments – hallmarks of a potent tale that I’m sure would be far more interesting and better explored on the page than on the screen where much of the subtlety is lost. Indeed, more than a couple of scenes evoke last year’s superior “Crash” and whilst “Freedomland” is almost equally as heavy handed with its messages of child-rearing and racial equality, its subplots and key moments are never as powerful or artistically done.

The streamlining of the story has obviously had an impact – various narrative threads feel sorely undeveloped or curtailed (most notably the escalating neighbourhood tension), others just seem to have been given too much screen time. The atmospheric opening sequence and first big ‘revelation’ have a bit of a punch but the film never manages to hit that high note again, and as the case drags on the more predictable the outcome becomes – and like it or not a predictable mystery is what this film is for the most part. An attempt to throw a curveball in the form of an area for which the film’s title is named after, does little but drag out the running time.

A great film adaptation of a book is one that’s well aware that whilst it can’t thoroughly replicate a novel’s narrative, so long as it gets the message and tone right it can likely result in an effective work. “Freedomland” forgets all that – lacking any kind of consistent tone and throwing out messages left right and center with little thought of actually developing a cohesive and effective story for the audience to follow. Overblown and overdone, its a film that obviously means well and is trying to say something – but all that comes out is hysterical blather.