Filmmaker Matt Porterfield (I Used To Be Darker) returns to his home turf in his fourth feature titled Sollers Point. The Baltimore indie helmer sets his latest film within the perimeter of a working-class neighborhood in his hometown. Porterfield moves from a collective portrait of dysfunctional family to a single-protagonist drama gradually unveiling a community portrait of certain time and space over the course of his one-day odyssey.
A 24-year-old petty criminal Keith (Baltimore native McCaul Lombardi of Andrea Arnold´s American Honey or more recently, Geremy Jasper´s PATTI CAKE$) gets a fresh taste of freedom after a year spent under house arrest at his father´s (Jim Belushi in a brief but nuanced supporting role) humble dwelling.
Keith recognizes that his old criminal ways have to change and so he sets an ambitious goal to become an A/C repairman and law-abiding citizen. However, you can´t teach old dog new tricks and though the protagonist is not an old dog, his temper and past connections will mislead him unto the route of his former life.
The general story design behind Keith´s plight became a genre of its own, a fish-out-of-water template from behind the bars oscillating on the spectrum from comedy to drama. However, Porterfield, wisely, employs the template not for its own sake but for the sake of psychological and social portrait. Coming from underprivileged and underdeveloped milieu, the main character did not have many options. The return back into society and life as a free man launches internal tug-of-war between avoiding the past sins and slipping into the comfort old habits inevitably hurtling headlong into the embrace of self-destruction.
Sollers Point plays like Ulysses in the Baltimore blue-collar social and spatial stratum. Framed into a single day from dawn to dusk, Keith argues with his disappointed father, welcomes sister who is still fond of him despite the flaws yet busy-enough with her own family to be his guardian angel. He wanders around the neighborhood purposely breaking into his ex-girlfriend to steal the dog they shared, giving rides to another local lost soul, enjoying a brief tryst with a stripper, doing rounds dealing, encountering a dealer with prophet´s manners and escalating violent run-ins with a beefing peer.
The city enters the spotlight as a character, as it happened recently in Kogonada´s Columbus for the eponymous town or Woo-jin Jang´s Autumn, Autumn (read the review) for Chuncheon. Porterfield does not fetishize the city, exposing its landmarks or iconic spots. The topos of the city, of the particular area, materializes through an array of supporting characters and their social affiliation based on gender, race, age and occupation occasionally substituted by interior shots of their households in an informing mise-en-scene courtesy of an art director Paige Mitchell.
The writer-director does not use bland character archetypes as a junkie, a stripper, a dealer or a gangster thus not compromising the authenticity and tailors them for not so much for the story and freewheeling plot but the environment. Despite their origin in the shadow economic and unfavorable social background, the lasting impression is not of pejorative nor hopeless nature and the characters are not oppressed by the stigma it does not apply in that particular setting. Sollers Point does not offer a showy travelogue diorama of Baltimore but a three-dimensional space that feels palpable.
It might be true the characters serve partially the purpose of props besides being employed as plot devices and facets in the collective community portrait however the writer-director embraces the vigorous social world-building in the Baltimore´s microcosmic replica. The characters become instrumental in establishing the neighborhood's order in its cinematic double, the tiny social and economic ecosystem with the protagonist outlining the psychological push-pull dynamics of his former and new life handily conveyable on supporting characters.
In Sollers Point, Porterfield functionally marries both protagonists, the white-thrash Leopold Bloom - Keith and the mundanely unflashiness and deprivation of blue-collar Dublin - Baltimore succeeding in forging a fatalistic drama of an one-in-a-million existence molded by the circumstances of its purlieu.