Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) walks into a New Jersey hospital with her palms covered in blood and tears running down her face. Soon after, we learn about her tragedy as she explains it to Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson), a good-natured detective. He listens to Brenda carefully but is impatient with her testimony.
Brenda states that her car was thieved by a black stranger while her 4-year-old son Cody was asleep in the backseat. This confession alarms Lorenzo who quickly becomes determined to find Brenda’s son, and early on in the film he makes a pledge. “I will not rest until I find your son,” says Lorenzo to Brenda in one of the film’s more gentle moments.
Freedomland is a thriller set in the town of Armstrong, New Jersey, where violence is not news to the townspeople. In fact, there are scenes in Freedomland that suggest the movie is not entirely about the search of a Caucasian boy but about the racial conflict in present-day America.
Lorenzo is torn between Brenda’s case and the violence that haunts the people of Armstrong. A black man, bothered by the strength of the hunt, questions whether a search this intense would be organized if a black child were missing instead.
As the film advances and Brenda’s testimonies echo in Lorenzo’s mind, he begins to see holes in her story. Karen Colluci (Edie Falco), an activist belonging to a search team which looks for missing children, offers to help Lorenzo with his investigation. A pivotal scene surfaces when the central characters visit a broken-down institution which one tortured children with certain disabilities. There, Colluci implores reverse psychology to get an answer from Brenda.
Falco’s calm and witty portrayal is something to admire in a film where story is eclipsed by performance. The same could be said about Samuel L. Jackson, whose character in Freedomland is likable but perhaps a little vague. Jackson shines in several scenes thanks to his co-star, Julianne Moore, who is just as forceful, if not haunting, in this role.
The film will appeal to those who yearn for ordinary mystery tales. Those in search of a substantive drama or thriller may be disappointed in light of the pretentious conclusion that forces viewers to absorb an insipid resolution. Freedomland is rarely able to tickle our curiosity because of its lack of direction. Is it about a missing boy or, really, a look at town with racialist quarrels? In the end, Freedomland is a prime example of a picture that wants to be heard but doesn’t know exactly what it wants to say.