Dilemmas are many in the works of writer-director Matthew Porterfield, solutions few. And that’s what makes his movies special — nothing comes wrapped in a neat little package when it comes to his flawed heroes, but audiences understand where they’re coming from, and by the end of the film, are rooting hard for their situations to get better.
Keith, the fledgling ex-con at the center of “Sollers Point,” knows he’s screwed up, and that the time has come to make things right. But nobody’s making that easy for him to do — including himself.
There are the people he knew before he went to prison, anxious to get him back in the drugs game. There’s the ex-girlfriend who wants nothing more to do with him, and won’t even give him back his dog. There’s his dad, who’s got issues of his own, and is not sure he’s equipped to be of much help to his son. And there’s Keith’s own hair-trigger temper, along with a tendency to get in his own way, as when he doesn’t show up for vo-tech classes and gets shut out of the program.
Baltimore County native McCaul Lombardi, who plays Keith, makes him both compelling and, simultaneously, exasperating. His countenance is uncertain, conflicted, as he constantly balances his instincts against his circumstances. It’s clear this guy has a heart, that he’s no irredeemable monster, and that people see a lot of good in him (including a young niece, who really wants him at her birthday party).
But … and sadly, there always seems to be a “but” when it comes to Keith. Not the sort of “but” that makes you want to throw your hands in the air and give up, but the sort of “but” that can’t help but make you worry.
“Sollers Point” is Porterfield’s fourth film, all set and shot in his native Baltimore, none straying too far from the area and the people he grew up with. Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner’s vision is as clear-eyed as his director’s, appreciating the area’s well-worn beauty without making it all clean and shiny.
As an observer, Porterfield is spot-on, with an understanding of who these people are and what many of them are up against, whether it’s the loss of blue-collar jobs (the death of Bethlehem Steel is a recurring leitmotif), drugs or the difficulty ex-cons have in finding work.
Lombardi is a perfect fit for his director’s aspirations, charismatic without being exuberant, melancholy without being hopeless. As his out-of-work dad, Jim Belushi amps down his typical bluster, even underplaying at times. He’s as lost as his son, and tragically, he knows it.
The journey is everything in “Sollers Point,” and audiences waiting for the emotional, action-packed climax are going to be disappointed (although the film does include a stunt involving a car, perhaps a first in Porterfield’s oeuvre). By film’s end, you understand that life, and hopefully growth, goes on. There’s real beauty in coming to grips with that.
‘Sollers Point’ 3.5 stars
MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language, drug content, and some sexual material)
Running time: 1:41
Opens: Friday, at the Niarchos Foundation Parkway, 5 W. North Ave.