The Free World 3.0 stars

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Synopsis

Writer-director Jason Lew’s debut feature is very much a religious picture, dealing as it does with a wrongfully imprisoned man’s conversion to Islam and the subsequent test of that conversion. But while the religious stuff is clearly set forth and left in plain sight, it’s easy to overlook, given the abundant humanity radiated by leads Boyd Holbrook and Elisabeth Moss, the hothouse atmosphere of the murder investigation that threatens them both, and the explosion of violence that forces the issue. Lew is blunt with symbols (dogs in cages standing in for people trapped in prisons both literal and figurative, the literal crossing of a river when our heroes cross their own personal Rubicon) and with images (lots of shots feature one strong light source, one well-lit object or person, and an abundance of shadows all around), and he’s sometimes clumsy with pacing. But he knows the story he’s telling, and so does his highly engaging cast. When Holbrook smiles — which is, understandably, not often, given his past, his present, and his likely future — he looks like a scruffy young Brad Pitt. But Elisabeth Moss is always initimably herself, her eyes wide enough and visage clear enough to let through anger, fear, hurt, and aggression all at the same time. Or, if the moment requires it, plain old happiness.

Matthew Lickona

Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Rated: R

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