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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 27.59%
Average: 27.59%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 3.45%

3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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by Brian McKay

"While the title is a bit of a misnomer, the film is far from disappointing."
4 stars

lev·i·ty - n. - Lightness of manner or speech, especially when inappropriate; frivolity. SYNONYMS: facetiousness, flippancy, foolishness, hilarity, light-heartedness, silliness. ANTONYMS: The film LEVITY, and its protagonist.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. There are some laughs, most of them courtesy of a fantastic Morgan Freeman. But this mostly dead-serious character study is far from frivolous, and at times fully engrossing.

At its core, Levity is a film about redemption for its four central characters. Manuel Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton) is a recently released murderer, who spent the past quarter-century in incarceration and has never once stopped punishing himself for his crime (committed during a botched convenience store robbery). He doesn’t believe he deserves to be free, but with the issues of prison crowding being what they are today, the choice is taken out of his hands. He is a tortured soul, ill-equipped to handle his newfound freedom. He carries the news clipping with his victim’s picture as a reminder of his sins.

Through a strange quirk of fate, he ends up working for room and board at a community center, run by Miles Evans (Morgan Freeman). Miles is a charismatic street preacher who dresses like an extra from Shaft, smokes weed, and fires off some pretty good jokes. He confides in Manuel that “I don’t talk to God, I argue with Him. He never participates, though. One of these days, I’m gonna meet Him . . . and I’m gonna kick His holy ass when I do.” Miles is obviously a guy who has issues with the Big Boss upstairs, and maybe a few skeletons in his own closet. Why the hell couldn’t my religious leaders have been as cool as this guy? Maybe I wouldn’t have gone astray from the flock, after all. This is one of Freeman’s best portrayals to date, and for it he is completely absolved of his sins of a)being in movies with Ashley Judd and Monica Potter, and b)playing that ridiculous General in Dreamcatcher – although I think we can blame that one on the script and miscasting more than on the actor himself.

Miles has a great scam going. He lets patrons of the nightclub across the street park in the community center’s lot for free . . . almost. The catch is they have to listen to fifteen minutes of his sermon before they go on their merry way to a night of raving, drinking, dropping Ecstasy, vomiting, and passing out. He makes Manuel the doorman, who makes sure nobody skips out on the sermon early. This earns him the dubious moniker of “God Boy” by association, and his new job brings him into contact with the princess of drunken ravers, Sofia (Kirsten Dunst). Sofia is a complete mess, but she latches onto Manuel as a friend and father figure because he’s the only one with the conviction to tell her what a pathetic mess she is to her face (in a rather powerful scene). Dunst also redeems herself for a fair amount of crappy roles she’s done in the past, and there is more to her lost little rich girl persona here than meets the eye. While seemingly tough and quick to good-naturedly trade barbs with the ghetto boys who hang around the community center, her inability to take care of herself belies the fact that she is very much the adult in her relationship with her mother.

Each of these characters help Manuel along in his path toward absolution, but he finds himself drawn to Adele Easely (Holly Hunter, also fantastic), the sister of the young man he gunned down over twenty years earlier. Manuel wants to make it right by telling her how sorry he is for his crime, yet struggles with the desperate but growing attraction between them, knowing that the truth will ruin any chance for it to come to fruition. Adele is the typical “sassy white-trash single mom with a checkered past”, but Hunter gives the character depth and pain that a lesser actress couldn’t. Haunted by her brother’s death and her own past sins, she believes that she could make up for it if she “brought a good child into the world” – something that she realizes she may have failed at, since her son Abner (Geoffrey Wigdor) is a borderline gang member who runs with a rough crowd, and ends up getting shot as a result. When Abner is out of the hospital and thirsting for revenge, Manuel may be the only person who can keep Abner from committing the same mistake he did over two decades ago.

Levity benefits greatly from some solid performances here, even if the actors are occasionally hampered by the strictures of their angst-riddled characters. There is some humor in the film, but very little levity in the lives of these people, especially the protagonist (indeed, the others poke fun of Manuel for his plodding and generally humorless disposition). Thornton essentially reprises his character from The Man Who Wasn’t There in this film (only with a really bad hairstyle), and while his performance is usually limited to moping around in his world-weary stance, its effectiveness is not diminished. Manuel is a man with considerable and justifiable pain, and he makes sure that we both know and understand it. Still, his conflict of “should I tell her I killed her brother?” drags on a bit too long, albeit with an appropriate, if not fully satisfying resolution.

In the end, LEVITY becomes a film about redemption not only for its characters, but itself – and redeem itself it does. If short on laughter, it is long on good drama and intriguing characters – and while I hate to play “Oscar Prognosticator” with Freeman’s performance, he certainly deserves a tip of the black leather cap.

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originally posted: 04/03/03 18:14:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/16/04 aim a brilliant story of redemption 4 stars
8/15/03 Paul Dempsey Fred Schepisi Exective Produced this little gem. Why not do something like this in Oz? 4 stars
4/16/03 Andrew Carden Appealing Performance By Hunter Saves The Film Altogther. 5 stars
4/04/03 Jim C. Not Bill and Ted. A fine piece of filmmaking! Don't wait for the video. 5 stars
3/25/03 Ric bonsey Truly a must see! 5 stars
3/20/03 Jane O. Worst movie I've seen in a long time. A real waste of some fine acting talent. 1 stars
1/31/03 Justin Biles really interesting, really evocative, poetic film 5 stars
1/24/03 Troonster What a cast, what a movie! Deakins (cinematographer) does GREAT work. 5 stars
1/23/03 Sean It is hard to care about the movie when you don't care about the characters 3 stars
1/21/03 SmallMediumLarge BillyBob telling off Dunst is a profound moment 5 stars
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  04-Apr-2003 (R)



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