PLOT: A dying New Jersey police officer (Julianne Moore) pettions the city's elected officials to allow her to pass her death benefits to her live-in girlfriend (Ellen Page). Initially denied, it'll take the help of a flamboyant lawyer (Steve Carell) and her cop partner (Michael Shannon) to make sure justice is done.
REVIEW: FREEHELD tells the amazing true story of Laurel Hester, a real-life New Jersey cop who, ten years ago, had to fight tooth and nail from her death bed just to get her partner the death benefits she deserved, as the conservative city council didn't recognize gay civil unions at the time. It's the kind of story that will shock you in that Hester and her partner are so clearly being done a massive injustice, although to his credit director Peter Sollett's made a movie that seeks to inspire rather than anger its audience.
One of the things that makes FREEHELD effective is that it takes its time before digging into Laurel's diagnosis and subsequent battle, with a good chunk of the movie establishing her closeted lifestyle, where she works a dangerous beat with her ultra-macho partner (Shannon) who not-so-secretly has a crush on her. Moore's wonderful as the tough but compassionate cop who's just starting to find true happiness for the first time through her relationship with Ellen Page's younger mechanic, who has to be the instigator and the one to push Laurel to accept her sexuality.
Moore and Page have an easy chemistry that suggests a real sense of intimacy, and both seem like a logical coupling, even if they are a case of opposites-attract, with Moore being an older authority-style figure, and Page being more of an out-and-proud, rebellious type.
Michael Shannon is also excellent here, for once playing an actual good guy, with some wonderful acting such as a scene where he evokes pain at both the fact that Moore's Laurel is ultimately unattainable and also that she didn't trust him enough as a friend to let him in on this hugely important part of her life. The way he goes to bat for her and fights rampant homophobia in the department is touching and his friendship with Moore's character is well-conveyed.
Given the tragic subject matter, one might be inclined to think FREEHELD is a depressing drag, but it's actually a fairly upbeat if sad story. Steve Carell is on-hand for some much-needed comic relief as the flamboyantly gay Jewish lawyer who comes along to help their case, and watching him press the slightly homophobic Shannon's character's buttons is often amusing, even if it's a relatively minor part.
Perhaps in an effort to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, FREEHELD ultimately embraces a conventional, commercial-style. While maybe too much of a transparent message-picture to ever win any Oscars, FREEHELD is still entertaining and inspiring. This is the perfect film to show to that person in your life who's not especially open-minded about gay rights, as it shares a message of equality people should take to heart.
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