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Peter Sollett
Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell
Writing Credits:
Ron Nyswaner

New Jersey police lieutenant, Laurel Hester, and her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree, both battle to secure Hester's pension benefits when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Rated PG--13.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Audio
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 2/2/2016

• Audio Commentary with Director Peter Sollett and Actors Julianne Moore and Ellen Page
• “The Making of Freeheld” Featurette
• “Freeheld to Freedom: Ocean County Then and Now” Featurette
Freeheld Documentary
• Previews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Freeheld [Blu-Ray] (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 11, 2016)

Fresh off her Oscar win for 2014’s Still Alice, Julianne Moore embraces another emotional drama via 2015’s Freeheld. Set in the early 2000s, we meet New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Moore). Although she encounters quite a lot of sexism on the job, she still excels as a police officer.

During a volleyball game, Laurel meets Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) and the pair soon develop a romantic relationship. Eventually they become registered domestic partners, the best a New Jersey same-sex couple could hope for at the time.

In 2005, this becomes an issue when Laurel gets diagnosed with terminal cancer. Laurel wants her pension benefits to go to Stacie, but the authorities feel disinclined to allow this. We follow Laurel’s battle to achieve this goal before she expires.

Even though much of the story takes place barely a decade ago, the gay marriage situation has changed so much that Freeheld feels like a historical artifact from the distant past. Not that this means I think same-sex couples no longer face substantial challenges, of course – I’m not naïve – but matters really have changed radically over the last 10 years.

One could view the story told in Freeheld as a stepping stone toward the progress that’s come over the prior decade, and that gives the tale value. Unfortunately, the film itself seems too superficial and one-note to achieve much.

Some problems result from the narrative structure, as Freeheld takes way too long to get to its main objectives. It wants to tell a story of Hester’s struggle for justice, but it makes the viewer wait forever to get there, as it devotes an inordinate amount of time to the basics of the Laurel/Stacie relationship.

It feels weird to criticize Freeheld for this, as I usually find myself on the other side of the debate. Most movies rush through basic character development exposition/development too rapidly, so I don’t normally go in the other direction to argue against those elements.

Nonetheless, I think Freeheld does offer too much of “pre-cancer Laurel and Stacie”, and these choices make the movie drag. The relationship scenes seem perfunctory and without the depth or spark they need to make them interesting. We accept their affection for each other – we don’t need so much time with the subject.

Even once the plot thickens, Freeheld moves slowly. It doesn’t help that the movie never gives its two leads much personality. It tells us why they love each other but doesn’t show us, and it never allows Laurel or Stacie to be more than noble figureheads.

Surprisingly, Freeheld gives the real arcs to its straight characters, especially Laurel’s partner Dane Wells (Michael Shannon). Dane changes and grows so much that he almost feels like the movie’s lead. Freeheld allows Dane to emerge and become a real person, unlike the thinly-developed Laurel and Stacie.

With a strong cast, the actors add life to the lackluster material. Again, the film doesn’t ask Moore or Page to do much more than seem dignified and embattled, but they bring some spark to the roles anyway, and Shannon finds the heart of his character. As a gay activist, Steve Carell tends toward comedic cliché, but at least he contributes some desperately needed charm to the proceedings.

I really do respect the story at the heart of Freeheld, but the end result seems rather stiff. As much as it talks a good game, it doesn’t deliver a drama with the heart or emotion it needs.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Freeheld appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I felt pleased with this solid visual presentation.

Sharpness seemed strong. Only a smidgen of softness ever occurred, as the majority of the flick came across as concise and well-defined. I saw no signs of jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes stayed absent. Print flaws also didn’t become a distraction, as the image stayed clean.

In terms of palette, Freeheld favored an tan tint. Some purples, blues and oranges also materialized, but the amber dominated. Within those choices, the tones looked fine. Blacks appeared dark and tight, and shadows were mostly smooth; a few interiors were a little opaque, but not to a significant degree. Ultimately this ended up as a nice transfer.

For a character movie, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio of Freeheld demonstrated decent range. As expected, the soundscape stayed fairly low-key, though a few scenes – like those in bars or on the seaside – added a bit of life. When appropriate, the material spread to the side and back speakers. These moments remained relatively rare, though, so expect a pretty laid-back soundfield.

Audio quality worked fine. Speech sounded natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music seemed rich and full, and effects offered clear, accurate material. Again, the film’s scope meant the mix lacked much pizzazz, but it suited the story.

As we move to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director Peter Sollett and actors Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at how they came to the project, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, editing, music and related areas.

Actor commentaries can be dodgy, as they often turn into superficial lovefests. A little of that tendency occurs here, but Moore and Page deliver quite a few good insights into their craft. Sollett can act more as interviewer than participant, but he does this well and he contributes useful thoughts of his own. The track occasionally drags but it usually provides an intriguing glimpse of various filmmaking processes.

Two featurettes follow. The Making of Freeheld runs 13 minutes, 55 seconds and offers info from Moore, Page, Sollett, documentary director/.producer Cynthia Wade, producer Michael Shamberg, writer Ron Nyswaner, costume designer Stacey Battat, production designer Jane Musky, and actors Steve Carell and Michael Shannon. We learn about the original documentary and its adaptation for the feature, casting, characters and performances, costumes and production design. This offers a fairly basic behind the scene piece, but it’s decent.

During the eight-minute, 53-second Freeheld to Freedom: Ocean County Then and Now, we hear from Stacie Andree, Dane Wells, and Lynda Hester-D’Orio. The featurette gives us an update on the real-life people behind the movie’s characters. Though this offers a short snapshot, I like that we get to hear what happened to them after the film’s events.

Next we get the original 2007 Freeheld Documentary on which the movie was based. It goes for 38 minutes, 49 seconds and shows us the real events behind the film’s adaptation. This program gives us a more powerful view of the subject than we find in the feature itself, so it’s a strong piece.

The disc opens with ads for Stonewall, Spare Parts, and The Impossible. No trailer for Freeheld appears here.

With a good cast and an important story, I hoped Freeheld would deliver a compelling drama. As hard as the actors try, however, the movie tends to drag and it lacks the emotional heft it needs. The Blu-ray brings us good picture, adequate audio and a small but solid set of supplements. Well-meaning as it may be, Freeheld falters as a movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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