Freeheld stumbles over too many hurdles to recommend it. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its focus is not.
My colleague over on the city side, Bob Greene, ran a column not long ago consisting of essays by third and fourth‑graders about what they liked at the movies. To a child they agreed that violence, mayhem and blood were their favorites. None of them mentioned cowboys, color cartoons or comedies, which were my favorites when I was growing up in peaceful Downstate.
Greene's column was inspired by my review of" Mandingo," in which I noted that it was a gruesomely violent R‑rated movie to which children, nevertheless, had been admitted. "If I'd been a kid in the audience," I wrote, "I'm sure I would have been terrified and grief‑stricken." Greene's point was that the urban kids of today are less easily shocked than I imagine.
To be sure, Greene printed only essays that praised violence (there must have been at least one kid with a high regard for horses, but we didn't hear from him). But Greene's point was provoking, as I was reminded last weekend during "Death Race 2000." This is a film about a futuristic cross‑country race in which the winner is determined, not merely by his speed, but also by the number of pedestrians he kills.
You get 100 points for someone in a wheelchair, 70 points for the aged, 50 points for kids and so on. The killings are depicted in the most graphic way possible. Giant swords on the fronts of the cars skewer victims. Others are run over several times. In front of an old‑folks' home, the nurses park the wheelchairs of several patients in the middle of the road and wait for the fun to start—but the driver has his own little joke by swerving off the road and killing the nurses.
Well, folks, the theater was up for grabs. The audience was at least half small children, and they loved it. They'd never seen anything so funny, I guess, and I was torn between walking out immediately and staying to witness a spectacle more dismaying than anything on the screen: the way small children were digging gratuitous bloodshed.
Despite the fact that the movie had a "restricted rating," the vast majority of the kids (and by kids I mean under 10 years old) were without parents or guardians. That wasn't a surprise. It's been my observation in several Chicago theaters recently that little or no attempt is made to enforce the R rating. The ratings were intended in the first place to protect kids from violence. But, you know, last Saturday I began to wonder who was going to protect us from these kids.
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