Freeheld stumbles over too many hurdles to recommend it. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its focus is not.
by Roger Ebert
The fall of Rod Blagojevich requires a novelist. The legal details have been eclipsed by the spectacle of a man held up to national, even international, ridicule. The novelist would ask: How does a man withstand such mockery? The courts will decide if he tried to sell a Senate seat, but public opinion has already convicted him of being a clown, an egomaniac, a preening narcissist, a walking, talking goofball.
That's the element that fascinates me. I surfed the news Thursday afternoon. Chris Matthews called him "the strangest man I've ever met." Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times told Matthews the unanimous impeachment vote reflected the fact that he had alienated every member of the Illinois senate. Legislators wanted to impeach Blagojevich for years, she said, but it took his sensational arrest to "give them the guts."
From other analysts I heard the word "delusional," "irrational," "living in a fantasy world," "nuts," and (from Mayor Daley) "cuckoo." That's why he might inspire a novel. His aides referred to his hairbrush as "the football," which he would go nowhere without. He affects a hairstyle appropriate for a British boy band in the 1960s, not for an adult, a governor. In his teens, Blagojevich must have looked in the mirror, liked what he saw, and frozen that moment in time.
His hair is sacred, but on "The View" it was tousled by Joy Behar and he finished the segment with strands out of place. Think about that. What other public official could get his hair tousled on TV? The gesture reveals an instinctive lack of respect. He has lost even the minimal courtesy perhaps due even a disgraced official. He is an object of fun.
That's what fascinates me. That's where the novel is. Who else since O.J. Simpson has furnished the late night shows with material for every single monologue for weeks? What other name guarantees a chuckle from the audience even before the joke? This isn't partisan. It's something we all share. He is the national dartboard.
How can Blagojevich stand it? In every newspaper, on every channel, people laugh at him. His name is a punch line. Yet he continues to smile, jog, joke, and even talk over the motor mouths on "The View" with his sound bites of innocence. What keeps him going? There was another U. S. governor of comparable notoriety, Huey P. Long of Louisiana. Robert Penn Warren wrote All The King's Men about him, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. The 1949 film version won Oscars for best picture, actor and supporting actress.
The new film could be titled "The Football." If it won awards like that, Blagojevich would probably take them as a compliment, even a vindication. I have never before written so unkindly about anyone, but in this case, it doesn't appear I can hurt his feelings.
An interview with Michael Shannon on Freeheld, 99 Homes, Boardwalk Empire, and more.
Our monthly series digs into the career of Wes Craven and comes out with his 3D 2010 film, "My Soul to Take".
A comparison of Frank Costello in The Departed and Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reveals weaknesses in the latter.
A letter to Angelina Jolie about the casting of her upcoming take on "Cleopatra."