At this point last year the eventual 2015 best actress Oscar winner, Julianne Moore, was just making her way onto the map with her performance as a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice.” The film went into the Toronto International Film Festival looking for a buyer and walked out as part of the Sony Classics stable. The indie distributor ushered the overdue actress through the season and the rest was history.
This year Moore is back in Toronto with another portrayal of a woman afflicted. Only this time, it’s a true story with sociopolitical overtones. Peter Sollett’s “Freeheld” tells the story of New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester, who fought to have her pension benefits transferred to her domestic partner (played in the film by Ellen Page) after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a bold and emotional fight already captured in one Oscar-winning film, 2007’s short docu of the same name. Now it could bring Moore back into the awards season arena.
A Lionsgate release set for theaters Oct. 2, the film is itself unremarkable. It carries across the story in a very matter-of-fact way, which is neither help nor hindrance, really. However, it does allow for Moore’s depiction of Hester to stand out. From a clenched and hard-hided detective very careful about not revealing her sexual orientation to a withering cancer patient losing energy amid countless political struggles (paid leave and insurance troubles on top of the county debate over pension equality), it’s another strong performance from an actress who is deep into the making-it-look-easy era of her career.
Can Lionsgate find room for her? That’s the question. The lead actress race is already stacking up with names like Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”), Brie Larson (“Room”), Sandra Bullock (“Our Brand Is Crisis”), Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”), Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”), Emily Blunt (“Sicario”) and Saorise Ronan (“Brooklyn”) playing the Telluride-Toronto corridor alone. If any element can survive overall scrutiny, however, it’s Moore’s immersive and moving work. And like a number of examples this year of the message outweighing the movie, the zeitgeist could keep “Freeheld” afloat for voters looking to make a statement.