A white woman, Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), works at a child care center in the projects of a New Jersey city where its large African American population lives. One night, she walks into the hospital with her hands bloodied and reports that her car has been stolen near the projects. Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson) gets the job and he senses something is not right. Brenda finally admits that she had gone back to work to get something and that her son was in the car. The carjacking was bad enough; the kidnapping implicates the blacks who knew and liked her.
Is Brenda telling the truth? Enter Danny Martin (Ron Eldard), Brenda’s brother and a cop in the police department the next town over; he demands and then insists he will find the ones to blame. Enter Karen Collucci (Edie Falco) and her team of amateur sleuths who have had success tracking down missing children; Det. Council turns them down only to ask for their help later.
The projects erupt because the people are implicated in the kidnapping without evidence. The police departments of the two towns are in conflict because they are both searching for criminals in the projects and both claiming jurisdiction.
Det. Council gets Brenda alone and tries to use religion on her to convince her to tell the truth. But it is Collucci who gets her to the broken-down and abandoned old children’s home, Freedomland, and to a confession. Sort of.
Freedomland, directed by Joe Roth (Christmas with the Kranks), and written by Richard Price (based on his 1999 novel of the same title), suffers from a huge identity crisis mixed with cinematic schizophrenia. At no time does this film know what it is or what it’s trying to say. Oh, it talks a lot, but the point is elusive. Both Moore and Jackson deliver soliloquies; hers are ravings, and his are sermons.
I liked the Samuel L. Jackson character, and I think if the story had belonged to him instead of splitting off into those of the mother and child, the group of mothers searching for lost kids, the policeman brother who came and went – just went, and the artificial race problems, we would have seen a man who had a great heart, too sensitive for the darkness of human nature that engulfed him. Instead, we got these odd religious homilies, as if someone had ghosted the script to make it somehow Christian.
The key actors’ performances did not mesh well; taken separately, Council, Collucci, and even Martin were strong. Together, they were … odd. And whatever happened to Danny Martin, Brenda’s hot-headed and judgmental brother? He just … evaporates. The only story-line that makes any sense is that of Det. Council, and then only barely.
“Freedomland” was obviously a metaphor for some unknown point of the story. I am sorry the threads of the narrative didn’t come together enough to make it a mystery thriller, a study of human weakness and greatness. In the last analysis, Freedomland is an attempt that falls short of its great potential.