by Matt Weiner
While the trendy seasonal debate is about what makes for a Christmas movie, Freeland—a taut, character-driven thriller written and directed by Mario Furloni and Kate McLean—offers a fresh spin on neo-westerns. (Pacific Northwesterns, in this case.)
Humboldt County pot farmer Devi “Dev” Adler (Krisha Fairchild) finds her longstanding operation (and serene way of life) thrown into an existential crisis, not by any shock-and-awe DEA raid but rather the slow bureaucratic death of refusing to comply with the new proper legal channels.
With the state cracking down on illicit growing operations, Dev is increasingly cut off from potential buyers both in and out of state. The changing business landscape also lays bare how emotionally removed she has become. Both her seasonal staff and her ex-lover Ray (John Craven) see the inevitable, even if Dev cannot: a way of life in the Northwest is coming to an end and a new one has already started to replace it.
Dev’s desperate slow burn fuels much of the tension, with Fairchild turning in yet another career-defining performance half a decade after 2015’s Krisha. Whether it’s reflecting with Ray on what they’ve lost since their commune days in the 1970s or shooting withering stares at the new generation of harvesters and corporate players, Fairchild brings an aching vulnerability to the no-nonsense Dev.
While much of the action is from Dev’s emotional breakdown, the directors also slow down long enough to take in the northwest vistas. It’s easy to see why Dev refuses to change her way of life, even as every piece of what that used to be gets stripped from her one by one.
It would be monstrous to argue that legalization isn’t a net good for incarceration and the drug war (and congrats to drugs on the recent wins). But Freeland throws into intimate focus another side of the legalization vs. decriminalization debate, in which the biggest winners look suspiciously like the same forces that are always ahead in every aspect of American life.
Freeland swaps 19th-century railroads for 21st-century agribusiness, but you don’t need a player piano to hear the familiar requiem.