After detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with cancer, she learns that government officials won't award her pension benefits to her domestic partner, Stacie (Ellen Page). Refusing to accept the officials' decision, Laurel and Stacie lead a battle for equal rights in this unforgettable movie that speaks to the power of love and the pursuit of justice.
'Freeheld' is one of those cool scenarios where there was a short documentary that won an Oscar a couple of years ago, which transitioned into a narrative feature film with A-list actors. The person behind this politically charged and emotional film is Ron Nyswaner. Nyswayner wrote the Tom Hanks Oscar winning film 'Philadelphia'. Since then, he has written for 'Ray Donovan', 'Homeland', and 'The Painted Veil'. However with 'Freeheld', he returns to familiar territory with gay rights and someone dying.
'Freedheld' is the true story of Laurel Hester, who is played here by Julianne Moore. Hester was a police officer in New Jersey who developed terminal lung cancer. She was also gay and had a life partner named Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). It's not a huge issue anymore with the recent supreme court decision, but a decade ago, same sex couples couldn't pass their pension and benefits to their loved ones. This is the main conflict of the film and what Hester fought for in her last months.
'Freeheld' is a solid film, however the documentary short gets straight to the point and focuses on how Hester and her partner Stacie take on the local government to have equal rights. For the sake of this narrative film, we receive a bit more history on both characters, some of which works, some of which doesn't. The first act is more or less setting up Hester's life as a police officer with her on-duty officer partner Dane (Michael Shannon). She keeps her life private, in that nobody knows she is a lesbian. She meets a much younger girl named Stacie (Page) at a sporting event and the two hit it off.
Soon though, Hester is diagnosed with cancer and finds out she won't be able to pass her pension and benefits to Stacie, which brings us to the major part of the film where the whole country gets involved in this equal rights issue. Unfortunately, the style and flow of the film is very uneven. At certain moments, the film seems sappy enough for a Lifetime movie, then at other times, seems like a screwball comedy with the arrival of Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), the founder of an equal rights foundation.
His character is so over-the-top zany and flamboyant that he doesn't seem to fit with the other characters in their somber and dramatic mood. Sure, he's fun to watch, but it takes you out of the story for a bit. Then there is Stacie, played by Page who doesn't have a lot to do here other than cry and longingly stare. I had hoped her character would have had more screen time and more to do, but she is left on the back burner. Julianne Moore gives a riveting performance, especially in her final moments, which is down right difficult to watch. It's award worthy for sure.
Even though there are some flaws here and there, there is enough emotional drama and a certain connectivity to these characters that make this film worthwhile, even if it doesn't hit the emotional chord that 'Philadelphia' did all those years ago.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Freeheld' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc and a digital copy code from Lionsgate Films and is Region A locked. The disc is housed in an eco-friendly hard blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve. No inserts other than the digital download code are included.
'Freeheld' comes with a good 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film was shot digitally and looks quite nice. That being said, the bulk of the film doesn't really leap out at any moment, visually speaking. The film itself is rather somber and that is more or less how the image is, using what seems to be a lot of natural light and earthy light tones. Detail is vivid and sharp for the most part, although some of the natural lighting caused the image to go a little soft at times.
Closeups reveal strong makeup effects, individual hairs, wrinkles, freckles, and fine textures in clothing. Wider shots, specifically outside near the beach was phenomenal, and were some of the best shots in the film. Colors are natural, but never really popped off screen at any given moment, with the exception of a couple of beachfront shots. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones were natural as well. There were no major issues with banding, aliasing, or any other compression problem really, leaving this video presentation with solid marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and sounds good for a dialogue driven film. Don't expect tons of car chase scenes or explosions here. It's not that type of movie. Rather, this is an intimate character study with tons of dialogue, usually between two people, keeping this audio mix front and center. There are some ambient noises and sound effects that come through nicely on the surround and rear speakers while outside at the beach or at a police station, but other than that, this is a quieter soundtrack.
Dialogue is crystal clear and easy to follow, even in the quieter scenes, and the score always adds to the tone and emotion of the story without drowning out any dialogue or sound effects. There were no issues with hiss, pops, cracks, or shrills and the LFE was good. Just don't expect a big bad workout on your speaker system here.
Audio Commentary - Director Peter Sollett and actresses Julianne Moore and Ellean Page provide the commentary track here, where they discuss the real-life case, the history of the people involved, and the changes from actual lief to screen, along with some tidbits of technical information and stories from the set.
The Making of 'Freeheld' (HD, 14 Mins.) - Here is a longer than normal standard promo reel with cast and crew interviews and some behind the scenes footage.
'Freeheld' to Freedom: Ocean County Then and Now (HD, 9 Mins.) - Here is a bit on the real life Laurel Hester with interviews with her real life partner Stacie Andree.
'Freeheld Documentary (HD, 39 Mins.) - This is the Oscar winning short documentary that made way for the narrative film.
'Freeheld' is a great narrative take on the real life people depicted in the story, which was also a documentary. There are a few flaws in the film, notably with a couple of characters who don't have much to do and the inevitable predictability for this type of film, but the script, story, and Julianne Moore's performance are top notch, despite all the sappiness laid out here. The video and audio presentations are both good, and the extras are all worth looking at if you're a fan of the film or if you're curious about the real life people. This one is recommended!