Intimately scaled film still manages to touch on big issues such as white privilege
There's a feeling of inevitability driving “Sollers Point,” the fourth feature from director Matt Porterfield, which finds its ex-con protagonist, Keith (McCaul Lombardi), attempting to reintegrate into his suburban Baltimore neighborhood after serving a stint in prison.
Back at home with his loving-but-wary father (an understated Jim Belushi), Keith makes halfhearted attempts to straighten up, though a short fuse and a knack for questionable decisions exert gravitational force, gradually pulling the young man back into previously established patterns. It's a credit to Porterfield's writing and direction — as well as Lombardi's sympathetic portrayal — that audiences are able to maintain a degree of sympathy even as Keith does everything in his power to obliterate it.
“It was [tough] … making sure that on paper, at script stage, we were balancing [Keith's] impulses and negative actions with positive ones. There needed to be moments where you really glimpsed his heart,” said Porterfield, who will appear at a screening of “Sollers Point” at the Wexner Center on Saturday, June 9 (the director's 2015 short film, “Take What You Can Carry,” will also be on view at the Box through June 30). “It was so key to find McCaul Lombardi, an actor with real pathos, to carry the role. … So much credit goes to him for creating a character and performance that audiences can relate to — even if they're frustrated with him pretty consistently throughout the film.”
Rather than spoon-feeding audiences, Porterfield throws viewers into the action — when we meet our protagonist, we don't know how long he's been imprisoned or on what charges — allowing them to learn about Keith through his interactions with the characters that populate the film. Gradually, through these conversations, a more realized, three-dimensional portrait of a young man on the precipice begins to emerge.
“I wanted people to be exploring the world and meeting these characters as we meet people in life, where we're not given a biography up front and we figure things out as we go,” Porterfield said. “I thought about it almost like a road trip film, where you have a protagonist moving through time and space and meeting all these characters along the way who reflect or mirror or give us a little window into Keith's life, or life in Baltimore.”
While, on the surface, at least, “Sollers Point” is more intimately scaled, the film manages to touch on larger social and political issues, including the disaffection of white, working-class voters, the country's growing racial divide and, most bluntly, the role of white privilege in shaping narrative. Though Keith is in his mid-20s, his father scolds him in one scene by saying, “You're acting like a little boy,” while an ex-girlfriend blasts others in Keith's life for always treating him like a child — a pointed line that purposefully calls to mind the divergent ways young white and black men tend to be described when facing public scrutiny. (Recall black teenager Michael Brown, who was frequently described in terms reserved for full-grown men after being shot and killed by police in 2014.)
“Although he was incarcerated, Keith is able to navigate the world with a certain degree of privilege I think, and everybody kind of gives him a pass,” said Porterfield, who grew up in Baltimore and has a fondness for the region that carries over into the loving detail with which he brings even the city's rougher suburban fringes to onscreen life. “It was tricky, but it was always on my mind to touch on these issues in an organic way. Without making an explicit statement, hopefully it leaves the audience thinking.”