A Brooklyn man tries to square a checkered past with a grim future in the intimate and observational "Welcome to Pine Hill." An offshoot of writer-direct-editor Keith Miller's short film "Prince/William," the feature mixes real-life situations and characters with fictionalized narrative threads to create a highly authentic slice-of-life drama.
First-time actor Shannon Harper, who Miller initially met on a New York street in a dispute over a dog (that incident, documented in the short, also opens "Pine Hill"), stars as Shannon, a reformed drug dealer now employed as an insurance claims adjuster. The husky, taciturn Shannon approaches his workaday job and solitary personal life with equal parts wariness and resignation.
But when Shannon is suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer, he takes stock of his life in his own quietly proactive way: He pays off debts, visits his estranged mother and kicks it with old friends. When he travels upstate to the faded, Catskills resort town of Pine Hill — a spot with veiled meaning to Shannon — it's clear some final life decisions have been made.
While the lumbering Shannon is hardly a charismatic hero, he fully demands our attention. His simmering silences and unstudied anguish — aided by Miller's lingering takes and unvarnished eye — make the ill-fated everyman especially haunting. Viewer patience, however, is required; this one's a slow-moving train.
'Welcome to Pine Hill'
MPAA Rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun