A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the subject matter of this film is not for kids. It focuses on the upset caused by a missing child, specifically his mother's upset and the social and political chaos that erupts surrounding the crime, which may involve his abduction, injury, or death. One asthmatic character has an episode when his inhaler gives out, and he gasps for air and has to take a panicky shot of adrenalin (soundtrack pounding, fast editing). The film includes violent and bloody imagery, heavy use of profanity (frequent f-words, "hell," s-words, and "damns"), and tense situations (including clashes between an adult brother and sister, and a grieving mother's hallucination of her child in a hospital waiting room). Several characters smoke, refer to drugs, and one looks to be smoking a joint.
What's the story?
Red-eyed, bloodied, and fragile, Brenda (Julianne Moore) wanders through the New Jersey Armstrong Project and arrives at a medical center, where she's surrounded by ER doctors and interviewed by Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson). She describes what happened as you see it in flashback: She's carjacked and thrown to the ground by a young black man. A few minutes later, she says her four-year-old son was in the backseat. Though he swings into action, Lorenzo intuits immediately that she's not telling the entire truth. As Brenda is haunted, then, so is the culture -- by ghosts of lost children, legacies of abuse and distrust, a looming history of racism. Brenda is burdened at last with speaking some version of "truth." Using language elegiac and perfect and quite unlike her own, she confesses her great sin and the film's great lacuna, a desire for which she pays an impossible price.
Is it any good?
Earnest and overbearing, FREEDOMLAND features mature themes and imagery: It's not for kids. Inspired by the 1994 case in which Susan Smith drowned her two young sons in South Carolina and claimed she had been carjacked by "a black man," the film, based on Richard Price's 1998 novel, attempts to give voice to a Smithlike character as well as some black residents of a New Jersey housing project who are enraged by the white mother's accusation and the assumption by police and journalists alike that her holey story makes sense.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about missing children and efforts to find them. How can media help or hinder this search process? How does racism affect the authorities' responses to the crime story? How does Lorenzo's background -- his incarcerated son, his addictions, his religious faith -- affect his professional choices?
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