by Mathew Plale, published on March 3, 2016 - 1:18 PM|
Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s STILL ALICE) is a revered police detective in Ocean County, New Jersey, acknowledged for direct involvement in cases that land drug dealers behind bars. At work, she’s considered one of the finest on the force. After hours, she’ll celebrate with the guys with some beers. But the extent that her coworkers really know her is limited, as Hester has hidden the fact that she’s gay.
It’s not a point of embarrassment, but she knows certain responsibilities won’t be offered if she’s outed. She is most free outside of the uniform, and it’s while in volleyball gear that she meets Stacie Andree (Ellen Page, Patricia Rozema’s INTO THE FOREST), who spends her work hours tuning up motorcycles. The two grow close, sharing line dances and, soon enough, domestic partnership.
Years after the women begin their relationship, Hester is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Given one year to live, Hester seeks to pass on her pension to Andree. This proves more problematic than planned, thrusting Hester out of the closet and into a fight to ensure gay couples have the same rights as straight couples regarding pension.
This is a story that certainly deserves to be highlighted. Indeed, it was the subject of a documentary, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) in 2007, one year after the real Hester lost her battle with cancer. Cynthia Wade’s (2012’s MONDAYS AT RACINE, also nominated for an Oscar) doc is a must-watch for LGBT activists and those passionate by Hester and Andree’s story. FREEHELD is not. It is merely a by-the-numbers retelling of an important story.
Moore and Page do their part in reciting their lines and crying when necessary, but all of it just seems like they’re doing what they’re told to do, coming short of giving proper depth to the scenarios and individuals that inspired the story. The additions of Michael Shannon (set to reprise his role as General Zod in 2016’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE) and Steve Carell (Adam McKay’s THE BIG SHORT, which earned him a Golden Globe nod) don’t add much, either, with Shannon sometimes made to spit out lines clearly meant to wind up as headlines and Carell serving more as a distraction than a forceful voice.
More might be expected of screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, whose PHILADELPHIA played a significant role in how AIDS is portrayed in Hollywood. Yet, FREEHELD is wildly preachy and often lazy, designed as if the audience is to weep and cheer solely because of the issue at hand, not because it’s presented powerfully.
Peter Sollett’s (2002’s RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, 2008’s NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST) FREEHELD is something of a disaster. Although the intentions of the cast and crew are well-meant, the entire production comes off as half-hearted and obvious. It’s apparent that the mark was missed when the most memorable moment is a sequence involving a tire-rotating challenge.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Details, textures and colors are fine but unremarkable.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles in English and Spanish. Dialogue is clean and the score comes through nicely.
Audio commentary with director Peter Sollett, Julianne Moore and Ellen Page: This is a decent—though occasionally heavy-handed—track that fans of the movie may enjoy.
The Making of FREEHELD (TIME): Sollett, Moore, Page and more discuss the inspirations, themes and more of FREEHELD.
FREEHELD to Freedom: Ocean County Then and Now (8:53): The real Stacie Andree and more discuss life with and after Laurel Hester.
FREEHELD (38:49): The 2007 Oscar-winning documentary.
MOVIE REVIEW: 1.5 out of 5
BLU-RAY REVIEW: 2.5 out of 5