This is not entirely surprising, since Joe Roth is the head of Revolution Studios, as well as the occasional director of such lightweight entertainments as "Coupe de Ville," "America's Sweethearts" and "Christmas with the Kranks." On the evidence of "Freedomland," he should never be trusted with anything more substantial, ever again.
"Freedomland" is a disaster. It doesn't work as a thriller, or a police procedural, or a drama, or even as a commentary on the way America's black population is almost reflexively cast as predators, or worse, by whites. And it does something I would have previously thought impossible -- it makes Julianne Moore look like an abominably bad actor.
Now, Moore is not a bad actor; I can think of several films where she's been wasted or miscast -- "Laws of Attraction" and "The Forgotten" spring to mind -- but I'd never have believed she could be as awful as she is under Roth's direction. He encourages her to tic, to twitch, to throw herself against walls and tables in a paroxysm of grief over her vanished son, and she goes bigger and louder than she's ever gone before. And it doesn't work, not at all.
Perhaps Moore seems so terrible because she shares so much of her screen time with Samuel L. Jackson, whose bristling authority is the movie's one real strength. Jackson has made plenty of bad movies, and he's survived almost all of them with his dignity intact; here, he makes us believe even the most ludicrous of his character's speeches.
Edie Falco, of "The Sopranos," similarly stays above the dross by simply refusing to acknowledge it: Surrounded by screaming and wailing, she drapes herself in a quiet, immutable gravity as an activist who specializes in finding missing children. Her finest moment, and Moore's, plays in a single, unbroken take, a duet between actors that even a hack like Roth can't mess up. But then it's done, and the rest of this overblown, preposterous movie comes crashing back in on them.
In a fairly shocking move for a film that was briefly touted as a serious Oscar contender, Sony's DVD offers a choice of full-frame and enhanced-widescreen presentations, and not a speck of supplemental material. It's one thing for the cast and crew to refuse to record a commentary, but surely there's a standard publicity package of making-ofs and interviews somewhere.
STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: May 30, 2006
TIME: 113 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French audio dub; English and French subtitles.
INTERNET SITE: freedomland.com