Steel CityReviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 01/23/06 13:25:05
(Worth A Look)
(SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL) Brian Junís assured, heartfelt debut feature Steel City is the third film I saw at Sundance about characters in a small town who have messed up lives, but who are trying to better themselves. Itís also the best of the three. Itís a perfectly acted and stunningly shot drama about a man in his early twenties who canít move forward in life until he has a handle on at least one element of his existence under control. In order to maintain a job, a girlfriend, a home and good relations with his troubled family, he has to figure out how to break the detrimental habits and patterns beset early in life by his father and his brother.At the start of the film, PJ (Thomas Guiry) has just lost his house after his father Carl (John Heard) has just been incarcerated after accidentally killing a woman. PJ visits Carl regularly as they await his trial. Carl recommends to PJ to contact his Uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry), who can get him a job at the steel mill. PJ, up until now, has been working at a restaurant where he regularly arrives late and half-heartedly pursues one of his co-workers, Amy (the wonderful America Ferrera). Once he loses that job, he reluctantly takes the steel mill job and temporary home offered by his bossy Uncle.
Meanwhile, PJís brother Ben (Clayne Crawford) has an affair with another woman as his suspecting wife tries to pry the truth from him. Benís underlying fear of being a committed family man stems from the fact that Carl left the family when he was a boy. PJ and Benís mother Marianne (Laurie Metcalf) has since married a police officer (James McDaniel), an occupation PJ eyes with mild interest.
Conflicts inevitably arise from these dynamics, but itís PJís relationship with his Uncle that has the most profound effect on him. PJ drifts through life unable to commit to anything, a mistake his Uncle has made all his life. Uncle Vic insists to PJ that he must pick at least one of his faults to render before itís too late. Either stick with the girl at the restaurant or lay doomed to an empty existence without love. Either keep the job a while longer while pursuing a more fulfilling passion or get used to being unhappy in work until itís too late to turn back. In life, you canít always fix everything all of the time, but because PJ is young and unmarried he has more of a chance than anyone else in his family. The load is more than a burden.
Writer-director-editor Brian Jun doesnít let all of his characters off easy, but he clearly has affection for every one of them. The relationships between the characters feel authentic and the casting is flawless. These characters all look like they could be related to each other. John Heard gives one of the best performances of his career and Thomas Guiry carries the film effortlessly with his tough, vulnerable exterior. Ryan Samulís cool, icy cinematography punctuates the drama with harsh blue exteriors that add a layer of oppression in this Midwestern steel mill town while recording artist Mark Gearyís subtle score and melancholy songs help underline the conflicts without once being over-bearing.If the movie has a slight flaw, itís that the ending wraps everything up a tad too nicely, but then maybe the optimism has been there all along. This is a family that has the displeasure of seeing one of their patriarchs possibly being taken away for an indefinite period of time for a mistake that may have been beyond his control. PJ canít possibly fix things in his life until he sees the irreparable damage his family has just been through. Itís easier to run away from it than to stare at it in the face, but if he doesnít, who will? These are issues Brian Jun knows well and this is a film that hopefully audiences will get to know well in the near future.
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