And Robert De Niro: four little words that, once upon a time, back in the ‘70s or ‘80s, would have immediately roused the spirits of any filmgoer. De Niro and his contemporaries in those days took the craft of film acting to new heights, their contribution to the New Hollywood paradigm invaluable in making that the great renaissance of American cinema. How can we have come so far now, to say that those same four words invite more winces than whoops, more jeers than cheers? Freelancers never for a moment looks set to be anything close to a good film; it’s sad that we’ve arrived at a point where the proudly boasted “and Robert De Niro” does nothing to improve its chances.
Given a reported production budget of some twenty million dollars, it’s telling that the film’s largest set piece is something as simplistic as two men falling through a window. All involved were evidently well compensated for their contributions, none of which even slightly assuage the enduring onslaught of awfulness.
Chief among the many reasons for Freelancers’ decidedly lacking appeal is the dual role of leading man and producer for 50 Cent, whose talents as actor—evidenced already alongside De Niro in Righteous Kill—conform rigidly to what one might expect from an adult who insists on sharing his name with a coin. The production credit is more troubling; stars of other media who make the transition to cinema are scarcely a success, even more infrequently so under their own guidance. Cast here as Malo, a new cop drafted by his murdered father’s former partner into a rogue team as driven by profit as by the law, 50 Cent finds in Freelancers plentiful opportunity to run about shooting almost as many people as he inhales substances.
The question of whose film Freelancers is becomes pressing early on, the ludicrous disharmony between Malo’s sense of morality and his easy contentment performing all manner of extra-legal activities attesting an uneasy double-standard in the script-writing process, the resulting film torn between some semblance of a genuine crime thriller and an abundant, abhorrent indulgence in excess for excess’ sake. Malo is afforded the idealistic high ground throughout, his apparent devotion to his father’s ideals—intermittently referenced in ugly flashback sequences—making him the closest thing Freelancers has to a moral compass, a truly worrying position to supply a character of such lacking stature. Affairs are excused as really the fault of his girlfriend, not him; blind obedience of blatantly mendacious orders is absolved in the eventual realisation not that it was wrong, but that it was for the wrong person: the presentation of so hideous a human is interesting, the adulation of him as protagonist is loathsome.
What he gets from his actors is worse yet, 50 Cent himself responding to each and every stimulus with either a gaze of mild confusion or a dumb grin, intonating each word with the mechanical mundanity of a non-actor out of his depth in a very shallow pool.
There’s no surprise in the realisation that Freelancers comes from an inexperienced pen, nor that its director’s work to date has been almost entirely in collaboration with 50 Cent: these are hired hands, their sole task the furtherance of this objectionable persona. Given a reported production budget of some twenty million dollars, it’s telling that the film’s largest set piece is something as simplistic as two men falling through a window. All involved were evidently well compensated for their contributions, none of which even slightly assuage the enduring onslaught of awfulness. Jessy Terrero’s handling of his action scenes is hopeless, one-on-one fist fights all but incomprehensible and the aforementioned grand finale shown from every angle his mind could conjure. What he gets from his actors is worse yet, 50 Cent himself responding to each and every stimulus with either a gaze of mild confusion or a dumb grin, intonating each word with the mechanical mundanity of a non-actor out of his depth in a very shallow pool. That he performs poorly is not much of a surprise, that Forest Whitaker and Robert De Niro are just as bad is a fitting signal of the production’s sheer toxicity.
It’s long been the refuge of the modern-day De Niro apologist to say that yes, while the films themselves may be unendingly wretched, his performances still manage that spark of artistry to them: somewhere, deep down in those eyes, Travis Bickle and Jake La Motta continue to look out. Here is a man once counted among the greatest screen actors, but once is no more, and his indefensibly bad work here is further proof—as though we were lacking it—that economic concerns now outweigh artistic. There may emerge from time to time some passably interesting independent fare—an Everybody’s Fine here, a What Just Happened? there—but the prevalence of that little “and” is a difficult thing to ignore. Freelancers’ sole merit may be showing us just how little fondness is retained for us by those whose transgressions we’ve continually forgiven for years now, and suggesting that perhaps it’s time we stopped that. This is an atrocious work of self-indulgence, for which much scorn should be directed at 50 Cent. And Robert De Niro.
[notification type=”star”]18/100 ~ UNBEARABLE. Freelancers is an atrocious work of self-indulgence, for which much scorn should be directed at 50 Cent. And Robert De Niro.[/notification]