I didn't find Freedomland nearly as offensive as most people who have reviewed it, maybe because I love Richard Wright's in-your-face approach to contemporary racial issues and society's attempts to control the chaos that sometimes threatens to overwhelm our modern cities, in this case, when the public demands an immediate response to a heinous crime against a white child. Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), a white woman, is carjacked in a black neighborhood, and as the plot evolves, she admits to Lorenzo Cousins (Samuel L Jackson), a detective who has seen better days, that her four-year-old son was asleep in the back of the car. What first appears an elementary investigation takes on the air of tragedy as an intensive search for the child is begun, the projects the subject of intense police scrutiny.
Chaos exists on two levels in the film: first, Brenda is clearly keeping essential information to herself, causing Lorenzo to doubt her story and question her motivation; secondly, because a white child is assumed lost somewhere in the projects, the police take aggressive action that they probably would not attempt in another neighborhood. When they lock the area down, treating the residents as criminals, the result is predictable, the threat of a riot increasing exponentially. We know from the beginning the likely outcome of Brenda's story; Lorenzo states it clearly, but it is through the more subtle conflicts that the true outrage of the situation is manifested.
Moore is excellent as Brenda, distraught, haunted, guilty, the cause of endless pain for the black community. Jackson is equally impressive, his frustration and confusion in counterpoint to the desperate Brenda, as well as the ambiguity of his position in the community. Edie Falco plays a powerful, understated role as a leader of the civilian search party in Freedomland, an abandoned asylum for children. It is there, in this graveyard for children's souls, that Brenda comes to terms with the realities of her damaged life.
If anyone is to blame for the excesses of this movie, perhaps it is the box office demand for action on every front, to the detriment of storytelling. It is impossible to relate the complex issues that plague our cities as depicted in this film, too much misery on too many levels. Yet this is Richard Wright's territory and he knows it well, the carelessly-mended fabric of a society damaged by years of racism and the inability of local institutions to navigate a middle ground where human dignity is a right, not an illusion. Not a pretty sight, but critical to our evolution as a country. Luan Gaines.