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Review: Boyd Holbrook and Elisabeth Moss lend weight to the drama ‘The Free World’

Boyd Holbrook and Elisabeth Moss in "The Free World."
(IFC Films)

The concept of freedom proves elusive for an ex-convict attempting to rebuild his life on the outside in “The Free World,” an initially compelling but uneven drama elevated by two centered performances.

Struggling to bury a violent past in prison, where he was incarcerated for a heinous crime he ostensibly did not commit, military vet and Muslim-convert Mo (formerly Martin) Lundy (Boyd Holbrook) works in an animal shelter under the protective supervision of his nurturing boss (Octavia Spencer).

But a series of ill-fated events serve to upset that delicate equilibrium, starting with his decision to offer refuge to Doris (Elisabeth Moss), a police officer’s abused wife whom he discovers bloody and distraught late one night while at work.

After a remarkably contained first act, this debut feature from writer-director Jason Lew proceeds to move in some unexpected tonal directions, not all advisable.

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Despite the drama’s questionable, abrupt shift into B-thriller territory, its leads remain affectingly rooted.

As a tightly coiled individual who’s finding it increasingly futile to try to bury his volatile past, Holbrook, perhaps best known for his work on the Netflix series “Narcos,” is palpably in the moment.

Moss, meanwhile, who continues to make some interesting post-“Mad Men” choices, matches Holbrook’s intensity as a fellow damaged soul who clings to the hope of a glimmer of something greater waiting just around the corner.

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‘The Free World’

MPAA rating: R, for some violence and language

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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