Image for Freedomland

Bloodied, distraught Brenda Martin (Moore) tells Detective Lorenzo Council (Jackson) she’s been carjacked by a black man, with her young son asleep in the stolen vehicle. As the search founders racial tensions in their community ignite, but Council’s g


This thriller of a missing child and a community under siege should have plenty motoring it. It’s an adaptation by Richard Price of his own acclaimed 1998 novel, set in the same New Jersey twin towns — predominantly black Dempsy and white working-class Gannon — as his earlier multi-layered novel of life and the law in the projects, Clockers (which, of course, was adapted into a strong film by Spike Lee). But in this case, both Price and director Joe Roth seem to have been asleep at the wheel.

What begins curiously (why doesn’t Brenda mention her kidnapped four year-old for several hours in her vague carjacking account?) just gets curiouser, to the point of exasperating incredibility. Jackson’s streetwise ’tec and father figure in the ’hood doesn’t do anything recognisable as police work. Nor does he do anything practical to cool the ugly situation developing on his turf. Instead he wanders around being sensitive with an unforthcoming Brenda, who is clearly not right in the head. At the least, shouldn’t she be under medical attention? Ten minutes in an interrogation room with Sipowicz or Briscoe and we’d know what’s what, so Council’s contemplative approach is wildly aggravating.

Meanwhile, Brenda’s brother (Ron Eldard), a cop from neighbouring Gannon, comes steaming in with his buddies (apparently in a time machine from the ’50s) intent on locking down the Dempsy projects and beating black youths — never mind little niceties like, oh, jurisdiction, warrants, civil rights, procedure etc..

Thank heavens for Edie Falco’s entrance. She plays Karen, a bereaved mother heading a volunteer group that organises searches for missing kids. She also has a nose for a story that doesn’t add up. Maybe they should have taken her on as script editor. There’s a lot of crying and shouting and verbose monologuing in this picture, but a key exchange between Falco and Moore is one of the few believable emotional scenes, and at last we think we’re getting somewhere.

Where we go is Freedomland. It’s kind of like Chinatown, more significant as an allusion than a location. (It’s an abandoned orphange where children suffered abuse and where the hunt for little Cody reaches a turning-point.) Conclusions are leapt to, dialogues suggest developments that never come, and it’s all simultaneously predictable and unpleasantly preposterous.

A prime example of what works in a book not working in a film, this quickly pisses away any sympathy we might have had for its characters.