Monday, January 16, 2017

DVDebut: Three knockout actors highlight Jason Lew's moving/flawed THE FREE W0RLD

There is so much that is so good about THE FREE WORLD, last year's film from writer/director Jason Lew making its DVDebut tomorrow, that it is too bad the movie doesn't quite hold up overall. Yet what's good here is good enough to warrant a watch. Mr. Lew, shown below, is interested in themes like justice, retribution, guilt and the demands of necessity, and for much of the film, he handles these with intelligence and skill, and his terrific cast puts it over with feeling and aplomb.

The movie begins with a man's voice speaking to what we might assume is some kind of support group -- maybe of parolees or soon-to-be ex-prisoners -- leading to the first of the film's pleasant (sometimes not so) surprises in this tale of an ex-con, the woman he becomes involved with, and his place of employment, which figures prominently in the plot.

Ms. Lew has cast his movie about as well as could be imagined, with every role -- the leads to the supporting parts -- written and played fully and exactingly.

In the role of that ex-con is an actor -- Boyd Holbrook (shown above and below) --that TrustMovies has now seen several times and found exceptionally good in quite a range of roles. Just the other night we saw him play the charming, good-looking "chef" in the better-than-you've-heard sci-fi thriller Morgan, and he was also excellent in, among other films, Little Accidents, Gone Girl and Run All Night.

The Free World proves his best film yet, and were the movie seen by more of our "cultural guardians," as well as by the public, it would have put him firmly on the map. As it is, it will stand as testament to what Holbrook is capable of, should he not finally get the kind of major roles he ought to be playing. As the woman who slowly becomes his "significant other," Elizabeth Moss (above, left, and below) adds yet another feather to her very densely populated cap.

Moss is particularly adept -- from Mad Men through Top of the Lake to the recent Queen of Earth -- at playing semi-losers, letting us experience the emotional states of these women while refusing to play for unearned sympathy yet never allowing us to lose our concern for them.

The third major performance is not a lead, but as it is played by the always wonderful Octavia Spencer (shown on poster, top), it becomes another reason the see the movie. Ms Spencer takes the role of Holbrook's employer, and she brings her usual charismatic warmth and engulfing love to the proceedings.

Around two-thirds of the way through, the film turns into a violent, action/chase thriller. This is certainly believable enough, given the set of circumstances we've already been shown. But Lew neglects to give us certain information that would be nice to know: Were the couple deliberately betrayed by their friend?  If so, why? And what the hell were the bad guys here going to do with the pair, and again, why?

These are not deal-breakers, for the movie still works on a certain level of excitement and adrenaline, and Holbrook clearly can play the heavy-duty macho hero with the best of them. But the abrupt change, together with the lack of context, flaws the film. Nonetheless, it offers a final scene that stays true to what I think Lew is trying to tell us about "the free world."

The movie, from IFC Films and running a well-paced and involving 102 minutes, arrives on DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, January 17 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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