Freedomland is a dark, strange drama about events spiraling out of control following the disappearance of a young boy, the distraught nature of his mother (Julianne Moore) and the subsequent search that takes two detectives (Samuel L. Jackson and William Forsythe) into a heated black community and the surrounding wilderness nearby. Moore’s character is a notoriously unstable woman and not the most reliable mother, her story just doesn’t seem to add up, especially when she claims she saw a black man take off with her car with her kid in it. Jackson’s charismatic cop knows the community well and does his best to ease mounting racial tension, while Moore is a basket case who can barely function, and the whole thing feels sort of meandering and purgatorial until a third act revelation that puts an entirely new spin on the film but also kind of thematically negates everything that came before. Is is a slightly political interpersonal drama? Somewhat. Is it a twisty abduction thriller? Not really me, but I feel like it wants to be. Is it a character study of a broken woman? Could have been with more development. It’s an odd mix that doesn’t really gel with much that it tries except when it focuses on Moore, who is fascinating damaged goods, but again more time should have been spent cultivating that angle. Jackson is fine in his authoritarian mediator role, normally boisterous Forsythe is pretty laid back as the trusty sidekick, Edie Falco plays a concerned activist looking to help out and Ron Eldard is terrific as Moore’s brother, an emotional firebrand who calls her right out on her ongoing bullshit. This film tries to be more than it ultimately ends up being, if that at all makes sense. Elements are in place for it to be great and some of them do in fact work, but the script needed some tweaks, especially in how the bulk of the film and the conflict there relate to and clash with that twist ending, which needed to be revealed way sooner to set up a moving, provocative final act. Not terrible for the effort that was made.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey shows us that with a little discipline, a lot of love and no shortage of persistence, wayward souls can be shaped into something with purpose and make something of themselves, as well as find kindred spirits via intense struggle. Based on one hell of a true story, Kate Mara lives, breathes and emotes Leavey wonderfully, a small town girl with a warrior’s heart who fights tooth and nail to adopt Rex, the canine bomb sniffing champion she has served with through thick and thin during a tour in the Iraqi war. Fresh off the heels of personal tragedy and burdened with an uncaring mother (Edie Falco) and a goof of a stepdad (Will Patton), Megan undergoes the notoriously gruelling marine corps training, and eventually makes her way to combat with her furry friend, an antisocial, violent mutt who she tames through compassion and patience. Coached by a stern, kindly drill sergeant (Common, who is actually a terrific actor), Megan finds romance with a fellow canine unit (Ramon Rodriguez) and mentorship from a veteran of the program (Draco Malfoy), but the strongest bond she makes is with Rex, the intuition of explosive hunting forming a link between them that goes deeper than anything you can see with your eyes alone. Megan seems to be a girl who hasn’t had all that much success in connecting with anyone in her life, but it’s Rex who ultimately reaches out to her, and when the time comes for her to desperately fight a callous bureaucracy for adoption, the film has honestly earned our emotions and not manipulated is a bit, which is a great quality for dramas like this to aspire to. Bradley Whitford has a brief but memorable bit as her birth father as well, giving her advice that cuts deep and goes a long way. Mara is an interesting actress, particularly in her choices of work. She often chooses scrappy misfires that don’t quite deserve her talent, but she never goes the conventional route, always trying new things and, at least in my opinion, outshining her sister every step of the way. The only issues I have with this is the title, which could have been given a bit more thought than just slapping her name above the poster, as well as a certain limitation on raw, organic emoting due to the classic pg-13 gloss one often finds in true story drama. Other than that, she’s a winner.