A detailed look into the imprisonment and investigation
surrounding the Angola 3, that manages to peak interest with truly
Hearing that three men have spent the better part of 30 years, not
only behind bars but in solitary confinement is a shocking truth. To
then realising that this is happening in the USA is simply jaw dropping.
In The Land Of The Free it is made abundantly clear that the Angola 3
are almost certainly wrongfully imprisoned but, crucially, it does
allow for both sides of the case to be heard.
The Angola Prison gained its name due to the slaves, who used to work
the land where it now stands, being from said country. This is just one
of the small ironies the film subtly highlights. The inmates of Angola
Prison, mostly black due to the population of Louisiana, still work the
surrounding land. In fact the case of the Angola 3 is rife with
wicked coincidences which highlight that, in this case, the American
Judicial system has failed to a catastrophic extent.
Charting the stories of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert
King who found themselves part of the Black Panther movement and
“fighting for our freedom” in a country where Black’s were deemed second
rate citizen’s the film in no ways tries to project these men as
squeaky clean. Indeed by their own admission they were all criminals at
one time or another. Woodfox confesses to a particularly entertaining episode of stealing a cement mixer just for the fun of it,
before being seen by the police and making a run for it. But whether or
not they are killers is what the film sets out to highlight.
Once the backgrounds have been established director Vadim Jean
gets into the nitty-gritty of the crime that would keep them behind bars
for so long, ironically a crime committed once they were all in prison.
It involved the stabbing of prison guard Brent Miller in 1972. The
damning evidence coming from a legally blind eyewitness with mental
health issues. Remarkably the Angola 3 are very open and candid about
everything that has happened to them, grace under fire does not even
begin to describe the charming ways in which they communicate their
There are moments when Jean over plays the drama of the Angola 3 by
utilising more narrative driven music in the background. It feels
slightly manipulative of an audience that are surely already on board
with the plight. Samuel L. Jackon’s narration certainly lends to the
gravity of the story but on the whole it is the people who know the story from the inside that truly captivate.
From Miller’s widow, who doesn’t believe the Angola 3 were the men
involved in her husband’s murder but longs for closure, to the warden of
Angola prison at the time who is certain they are guiltily.
No stone is left unturned and while the pioneering lawyers towards
the end are unnecessary they do lend a certain perspective when they
state that Wallce, Woodfox and King all became “extraordinary
lawyers” not just in their own case but also in fighting the wrongs
within the penitentiary.
If nothing else In The Land Of The Free is a film that will
inspire you to realise what a tragedy an oversight of justice can be.
The end pulls on the heartstrings while reminding you that the Bill Of
Rights states no person shall suffer “cruel or unusual punishment”. If
more than 30 years of solitary confinement does not break that bill then
we live in a terrifying world. To suggest that the Angola were made into scapegoats is to understate the crimes that have been committed against them.