Sollers Point

Studio: Oscilloscope
Directed by Matthew Porterfield

May 22, 2018 Web Exclusive
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It is generally assumed that we mature and evolve our perspective and attitude to better suit our current situations, thusly developing the tools to keep us on the straight and narrow. However, that is actually a vastly oversimplified supposition, as there are no defined pathways for how life is to be navigated; and many who struggle to maintain socially ethical behavior often do just the opposite in order to survive. Matthew Porterfield zeros his uniquely attuned lens (once again) to decaying Baltimore neighborhoods overflowing with the forgotten and unemployed, and uses one ex-con’s story to illustrate the internal prison so many live inside each day. Sollers Point manages to transcend its generic storyline through poignant observation and thoroughly believable main cast of characters, though it suffers from final act scattershot with frayed plotting and lukewarm supporting performances.

Keith (McCaul Lombardi) has just recently completed a year of house arrest, and struggles to find employment while living at the home of his father Carol (Jim Belushi). While reconnecting with those who he had left behind after entering prison, he follows many avenues to get back on his feet (including selling off scrap metal, and attempting an HVAC class). However,  old running mates from the neighborhood continually test his fortitude, and his constant personal limitations repeatedly tempt him back into the life of a small-time drug dealer. All the while, his previous relationship with Courtney (Zazie Beetz) remains an ever-present wound that refuses to heal.

Shabier Kirchner’s cinematography manages to perfectly capture the summer heat and well-worn atmosphere of neighborhoods long past their hayday, and further driven into decline by gentrification and fleeing industries. Initially we spectate each scene quite dispassionately from a decent remove, allowing the setting to play as much importance as the scene itself. But as Keith’s situation grows more complex, the camerawork is imbued with a frantic kinetic energy (though still maintaining a constant visual through line that makes each shot feel essential). This is further exemplified by Marc Vives’ fantastic editorial sense, letting shots linger quite naturally and allowing character emotions to dictate the pacing of a scene.

All aforementioned elements are indicative of Porterfield’s consummate directorial and storytelling abilities. He never utilizes a conventional score, but relies on room tone and diegetic music to paint an intense contrast between who Keith tries to be for the people in his life, and the true person he battles with inside. There is a striking authenticity to each of his characters, they feel as if they could populate any neighborhood in the United States (though still possessing attributes that can only be appreciated by current or past Baltimore and Dundalk residents).

The film is kept grounded in a stark reality by the multifaceted performances by Lombardi, Belushi, Beetz, Everleigh Brenner, Lynn Cohen, and Felix Stevenson, buttressed by a plethora of distinguishable minor and extra roles. However, many of the more interesting characters at the start of the film are never returned to by the end, which resultedly feels to be a missed opportunity. This is especially so since several of the third-act characters are highly superficial (as are their arcs), and garner humdrum performances by their actors; and, as opposed to everyone who came before them, I’m not too sure why they’re here.

Though the ending may be a touch off-footed, and some performances range from the cliched to the monotonous, the majority of the film captures a rather unique (and realistic) concern that affects numerous Americans today. While we struggle to do what’s right by everyone, especially when trying to reenter society, selfishness and personal desire will often dictate our actions, regardless if we are justified or not. Sollers Point is a highly contemplative work void of distinct protestations, allowing its everyday challenges to speak volumes as to the disposition of human beings.

Author rating: 7.5/10

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