To think that equal rights are still being fought for in the 21st century makes me sick. That was my mindset while watching this moving drama based upon a true story.
Julianne Moore stars as Laurel Hester, a 20-plus year veteran of the New Jersey Police Department, highly regarded by all and as good a cop as they have on the force. She and her ladies’ man partner and fellow detective Dane Wells (Michael Shannon) make a great team. But while Wells shares all with her, she is holding something back; something mightily important to her – she is gay. In the jurisdiction where she plies her trade admitting it is tantamount to committing career suicide, so she chooses not to. A chance meeting with Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) though will up the stakes and change the course of history. Although considerably younger, Andree, a top-notch car mechanic, is immediately attracted to Hester and it doesn’t take long to learn that the feeling is mutual. Still, it’s a while before Hester trusts and feels at ease in the relationship. After buying a home together, tragedy strikes and Hester’s relationship with Andree is viewed in a different light than if they were a heterosexual couple. Consider again for a moment that this is a deeply conservative neighbourhood and changing the rules is going to be near on impossible.
Also starring Steve Carell as Steven Goldstein, a loud and proud Jewish gay rights activist, Freeheld is a movie that moved me to tears and anger. With the United States finally this year (on June 26th) accepting marriage equality, it is a poignant reminder of the personal struggles at the heart of the movement behind the landmark decision. I am ashamed to say Australia still hasn’t.
So it is the story of how New Jersey police lieutenant Hester and her partner Andree became a flashpoint in the growing global battle for justice in 2005. The performances of both Moore and Page are wonderful – compelling and oh so believable. What Hester and Andree went through in their campaign for equal rights came to the fore in a short, also named Freeheld, directed by Cynthia Wade. It claimed the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film. Then producers approached Wade to expand her work into a feature, which ended up being written by Ron Nyswaner, who wrote Philadelphia.
While we – the audience – know where the film is heading, it remains a very emotional journey and one in which I became immersed. Rated M, Freeheld scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Peter Sollett
Cast: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carrell, Michael Shannon
Release Date: 5 November 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television