By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
How hard would you fight to be free? After spending two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Mo (Boyd Holbrook) struggles to put his past behind him as he readjusts to a new life working in an animal shelter. Doris (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in another sort of prison: an abusive marriage. A dramatic encounter brings these two troubled souls together, and a possible murder connects them. Soon, Mo finds himself risking everything, including being locked up once again for someone else’s crime to protect the fragile Doris. Driven by explosive performances from Moss and rising star Holbrook, the feature debut “The Free World” from director Jason Lew is a gripping, mood-drenched exploration of guilt, redemption, and what it means to be free.
“The Free World” is a sad movie about a man who is trying to savor as much freedom as he can, even though he is so measured as to make it seem that he doesn’t believe that he is actually out of prison. Although quiet, he still attracts many lingering looks as he begins working at an animal shelter operated by Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer. One night as he’s closing up the shelter, he finds a distraught Doris who seems out of her mind and is looking for her dog.
Against his own better judgment, Mo takes the hysterical woman to his house, only to discover that she may have been involved in the murder of her husband. He is bent on letting the woman stay at his home, even hiding her in a dog cage, when the police come lurking around his house searching for the woman. Things don’t turn out well for either of them, and although they have remained platonic, this changes when they seek help for a ride across the border for safety.
A simple plan goes awry, when the very people who were going to get them across the border throw a monkey wrench in the plan and restrain the woman, while Mo is still asleep.
During their time together, even though she is a wreck because of the abuse, Doris finally calms down and is able to learn much about Mo and his conversion to Islam, how he was called a monster before his incarceration and religious conversion. Eventually, his good deed becomes undone, and Doris is charged and prosecuted for her husband’s death. Mo is able to avoid a return back to prison however, but his life is changed, because it seems that after all this time alone, he has now become attached to someone who—in the end—loses her freedom.
Spencer doesn’t have much face time in the movie, but she is the “boss,” because she runs the animal shelter. She tries as she can to give a good word about Mo and protects him in the beginning, when the police seem to be bent on harassing him. However, in the end, she loses touch and wouldn’t have been able to help him anyway, since he is on the run.
“The Free World” is available from IFC Films on DVD and probably some streaming services. For more information, visit http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/the-free-world.