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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Freeheld (Blu-ray)
Freeheld (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // February 2, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted February 5, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Us progressives in the US would like to think that a lot of LGBT civil rights have been implemented in the country for a long time now. Freeheld, a messy but emotionally engaging courtroom drama about an important LGBT rights issue, reminds us that it wasn't that long ago when members of the LGBT community were openly being treated like second class citizens. Widespread bigotry still persists to this day, to be sure, but at least the tide seems to be shifting more towards tolerance. Freeheld is a "period piece" that takes us all the way back to the year 2002, when a basic right of a highly esteemed government worker was taken away from her simply because she happened to have a same sex partner.

Inspired by an Oscar-winning short documentary, Freeheld tells the true story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a gay New Jersey police officer who finds out that she has terminal cancer, and wishes to give her pension to her domestic partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Because of a loophole in domestic partnership laws, the freeholders of Laurel's county decides to not give Stacie the pension because they don't want to risk being demonized by their constituents for appearing to legitimize Laurel's "moral depravity". Even though Laurel can easily marry her supportive police force partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) and have Dane give the money to Stacie, she decides to fight the system because she believes in the justness of law, a sentiment not shared by Dane.

Even though they abide by a lot of the emotionally charged clichés of civil rights courtroom dramas, the scenes surrounding Dane and eccentric LGBT activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell) going head-to-head against the freeholders are filled with the right amount of energy and righteous indignation to keep the narrative afloat. The problem is that Freeheld can't decide whether it's a romance about Laurel and Stacie's undying love for each other, or a civil rights drama about an odd couple (The straight and awkward Dane and the flamboyant Steven) doing their best to help someone who means a lot to them.

Since Laurel can't participate in the hearings due to her declining health, the weight of those scenes rest on Shannon and Carell, who play off of each other really well. Perhaps the production was worried that the film could be seen as sexist if it told the story of two women through the eyes of two men, but it's hard to deny that the meat of the story is in the scenes about Dane and Steven. Ron Nyswaner's screenplay spends too much time on the development of Laurel and Stacie's relationship, which doesn't go beyond the expected structure of a generic romance. If the film started off with the couple being already established, and pulled back the cancer diagnosis into the first act as the inciting incident, more emotional heft and story development could have been transferred to the court scenes.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Freeheld has a fairly flat and evenly lit look. Despite the list of A-list stars, it would have been a perfect fit for a premium or even basic cable movie. The 1080p transfer is incredibly clean and crisp, and is also without any noticeable video noise.

Audio:

This is a very dialogue-heavy drama with a subtle score; so don't expect much out of the DTS-HD 5.1 track, apart from clearly heard dialogue and very minimal surround presence. It's perfectly fine to listen to Freeheld through regular TV speakers.

Extras:

Commentary by Peter Sollett, Julianne Moore, and Ellen Page: The director and his two stars have a loose and conversational attitude to the commentary, but it also manages to be very informative.

The Making of Freeheld: A fairly standard EPK that gets a bit into the real story.

Freeheld to Freedom: An interesting 9-minute featurette where the real people talk about the case, and how their neighborhood changed since 2002.

Freeheld: This is a great addition to this Blu-ray. We get the original Oscar-winning doc in its entirety. I have to be honest; the doc is better than the fictionalized feature, especially in terms of capturing the emotional turmoil that the real couple had to go through. Even if you're not a big fan of the feature, it's great to have a nice HD transfer of the documentary short.

We also get some Trailers.

Final Thoughts:

Freeheld is uneven and a bit too full of the usual clichés found in civil rights dramas. But it tells an important story that must not be forgotten, and it tells it in a passionate and appealing way. The inclusion of the original documentary alone makes this Blu-ray at least a rental.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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