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FREEHELD

SYNOPSIS: During her career as a New Jersey Police Detective, Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) had kept her sexual orientation a secret, fearing discrimination. Outside work she fell in love and built a life with Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). After being diagnosed with a terminal illness, Laurel braves coming out to her workplace in the hopes that Stacie would be granted the same rights as a heterosexual partner where on the death of a police officer, their spouse is eligible to receive the officer's pension. But the conservative county commissioners (known as Freeholders) refuse her request, citing religious and budgetary reasons. Laurel spends her last days fighting to overturn the decision, Stacie struggles to care for her ailing partner, and fellow officers and larger-than-life gay political activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), rally to Laurel's cause.

Review by Louise Keller:
Discrimination and equal rights are the theme of this true life story in which a dying police officer struggles to ensure her gay partner is the recipient of her rightly due pension. It's a valid story with poignant elements, yet director Peter Sollett champions the elements with an earnest voracity that detracts. Surprisingly it is not the central love story that haunts, but that of two of the key characters whose personal and professional devotion to Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is fundamental. The expressive face of the diminutive Ellen Page as Laurel's partner Stacie, depicting vulnerability, affection, anguish and despair is greatly affecting as is the staunch, immovable support of her police-force partner Dale (Michael Shannon, excellent). Julianne Moore's performance is fine too, although there is a lack of all-important chemistry between Laurel and Stacie.

When the film begins in New Jersey in 2002 during a drug bust in which Laurel is actively involved. After seeing her heroics at work, we then see her in a different light - playing volleyball with a team of gay women in Pennsylvania. That is where she meets Stacie; the attraction is immediate. An awkward first date develops into a serious relationship, even though Laurel is initially uncomfortable with their age difference. They have a common dream: to own a house and a dog.

The first real clue to sexual discrimination in the police force comes when we observe how secretive Laurel is about her private life. The scene when Dale arrives unexpectedly to Laurel's new house with a housewarming present is enlightening on several levels. We had previously observed their easy professional relationship and close bond, but the revelation about Laurel's sexuality initially changes everything. When Laurel's devastating stage 4 cancer comes to light, the freehold meetings' county officials prove to be totally inflexible and discriminatory. Also indicative is the attitude of the fellow police officers who were previously unaware of Laurel's sexual preferences. Laurel's objective is for equality: allowing her life partner to receive benefits after her death.

The casting of Steve Carell as the stereotypical loud, gay Jew who leads a parade of political theatre is unfortunate and Sollett's direction (or lack of it) makes matters worse as the scenes become farcical. This is the tone that prevails instead of one of devastation and compassion when Laurel's health deteriorates and her relationships are put to the test. The scenes between Shannon and Moore are especially moving however - these form the heart of the film. It's a pity that Sollett has not been able to manage the tone better, so as not to disturb the integrity of the story.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

FREEHELD (M)
(US, 2015)

CAST: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carrell, Michael Shannon, Josh Charles, Luke Grimes, Gabriel Luna, Mary Boirdsong, Dennis Boutsikaris, Stink Fisher

PRODUCER: Phil Hunt, Duncan Montgomery, Compton Ross, Jack Selby, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, James D. Stern, Cynthia Wade

DIRECTOR: Peter Sollett

SCRIPT: Ron Nyswaner

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Maryse Alberti

EDITOR: Andrew Mondshein

MUSIC: Hans Zimmer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Musky

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: eOne

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 5, 2015







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