Based on a real story, “Freeheld” is a timely drama addressing rights issues and offers commanding performances by Julianne Moore and Ellen Page. They play the lesbian couple who stirred debate and protest in Ocean County, New Jersey, at a time before such a matter would become moot as a result of subsequent court rulings.
Moore plays police officer Laurel Hester, a top veteran cop liked and respected in the force. She is shown meeting and falling in love with Stacie Andree, appealingly played by Ellen Page. They seem an odd couple, Hester tall and beautiful, Andree short and boyish looking. But we see a devoted loving relationship developing, and they are extremely happy together in the home into which they move.
However, once Hester is revealed as a lesbian, her fellow cops at first give her the cold shoulder, except for her understanding police partner, Dane Wells, played stalwartly and sympathetically by Michael Shannon, although he is miffed that Hester didn’t confide in him about the relationship.
Suddenly Hester is hit with a diagnosis that she has terminal cancer. As married cops can do, she wants to transfer her pension benefits to Andree, but the bias against her being lesbian arouses a denial, and the matter is pressed before the council of freeholders, who could grant the request under state law, but refuse, partly out of fear of political retribution but also as a result of prejudice against same sex couples.
The conflict heats up when Steve Carell in a colorful often amusing performance as an outspoken, hell-raising gay activist from New York (Carell seems to be capable of effectively taking on any sort of a role) brings a loud gay and lesbian contingent to New Jersey to demand pension-transfer rights for Hester. The pressure escalates with moving results as the freeholders are put on the spot and Hester’s police colleagues have to come to grips with having to take a stand.
Director Peter Sollett, working from a screenplay by Ron Nyswaner, builds the battle with suspense as well as makes the most of the story’s inherent tear-jerking. Moore is terrific in a performance with best actress award potential and Page is also excellent in a part with supporting performance award possibilities.
“Freeheld” is a film with heart and principle, all the more so because it is a true life story about a couple, and an issue that goes to the heart of human rights and dovetails with current events. Reviewed October 1, 2015.