Mo (Boyd Holbrook) is recently released from prison where he served hard time for a crime he didn’t commit. Reintegration to the outside world is hard on him, and the local cops are even harder. His only friend is his boss at the animal shelter (Octavia Spencer), but she is at a loss to explain to him how this outside world has so few rules that a man can beat his dog to death without consequences.
One night he finds a woman (Elisabeth Moss) in the shelter, covered in blood. It turns out the two have a lot in common; an abusive marriage can feel an awful lot lot like jail. To keep her safe, he risks his own freedom to hide her, but his crappy apartment makes for a terrible hideout, and the two have to go on the run to stay ahead of the law. And you know what? It’s a pretty sucky world out there.
There’s a lot of comparisons to be drawn from the movie – the shelter’s cages like prison cells for bad dogs; Moss a puppy frightened of her owner. And it’s painful to admit that the ‘free world’ isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, that prisoners may be more predictable than random citizens.
Jason Lew’s screenplay is interesting because it leaves much unsaid and really forces the viewer to question what’s important. But leaving us in the dark is a bit alienating, and we don’t always engage with the characters as we should. The acting’s not the problem here, but the direction might be. The Free World sometimes feels like two different movies – strongest in the quiet parts, and tonally uneven in the more actiony sequences. I really liked how the movie started out, I liked this portrait of a man not knowing his place outside of a prison cell, not knowing who he is outside of the system, and not really being allowed the room to breathe and discover. The Free World is cynical. More cynical than a wrongly convicted born-again-Muslim who sleeps best in the confines of a closet. It’s a toughie.