Julianne Moore plays a white woman who walks into an emergency room claiming to have been carjacked by a black man while coming home from the projects as a volunteer worker. Samuel L. Jackson is the police officer assigned to her case, and it’s not long before he learns that Moore’s young son was in the car at the time. Thus, the case becomes far more immediate. Meanwhile, the predominantly black local residents seem increasingly closer to revolting as the police presence in their community becomes greater. Greater, perhaps, than would be the case if it were a black child, and this sees the residents start to resent the previously well-regarded Moore for supposedly bringing this police presence to their community (the ‘hood is put on lockdown while the investigation is carried out). Jackson, who clearly has a foot in both camps (which both sides clearly resent him for) is uncomfortably forced to play piggy-in-the-middle, and occasionally becomes collateral damage in the scuffle. Although he comes to care for her somewhat, he also suspects that the increasingly hysterical Moore (a recovering addict) is not being entirely truthful.
Meanwhile, the case seems to bring up personal issues for Jackson, who has a grown son serving time in prison. And then Moore’s cop brother Ron Eldard turns up to start some shit, bringing tensions to a boil. William Forsythe plays Jackson’s buddy on the force, Edie Falco runs a group for women who have lost children in similar circumstances, Anthony Mackie plays a young African-American resident ready to throw down if the cops dare look at him the wrong way, and Philip Bosco has a cameo as a priest.
There hasn’t been much love given to this 2006 investigative drama from director Joe Roth (best-known for teen comedies like “Coup De Ville”, and the underrated “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise”) and screenwriter/novelist Richard Price (“Bloodbrothers”, “Sea of Love”), and I have no idea why. I had my issues with it (one seemingly important character turned out to be rather pointless), and it’s an extremely ugly film that I’m not sure I’d like to revisit again, but unlike say “Precious”, I didn’t find that the ugliness and depressing material completely suffocated me in the end. Watching this blend of “Do the Right Thing” and “Gone Baby Gone” a little while after the George Zimmerman verdict was read out (and the subsequent, exaggerated/exacerbated fear of race-related riots) probably added something of an x-factor to my experience as well, though the film is more reminiscent of the myriad of real-life kidnapping cases over the last ten years or so.
And the performances are mostly terrific. A lot of people seem to think Julianne Moore was overly histrionic here (in a performance not too far removed from Amy Ryan in the later “Gone Baby Gone”), and whilst I’m not entirely sure how her extremely emotional behaviour throughout the film quite meshed with her previous ‘much loved community volunteer’ persona, I only thought about that after the film was over. For the duration of the film, I found her absolutely riveting, heartbreaking, and frankly a bit pathetic- and most of all, persuasive. She was really, really convincingly trashy and pathetic, not simply ‘take off my makeup, put on a push-up bra, now gimme an Oscar!’-stylings. In fact, in my view it’s her best performance to date (I’m not normally a fan). I guess you either go with her (and the film) or you don’t. I mostly did, and was quite affected by her and the film. Samuel L. Jackson gives a rock-solid performance too, even if his health issues weren’t quite explained as well as I would’ve liked (Diabetes? Asthma? Both? Certainly he had asthma, but what was with the injection at one point? It seemed over-the-top to me). Edie Falco is fine too, but her big scene that everyone regards as the best in the film, came off as too well-written to me, it didn’t feel organic.
I’m not sure what everyone’s problem was with this film, it’s a hard watch, but in my view, at least somewhat rewarding and Julianne Moore is incredible. Give it a go if you missed it on release.