The men in Brian Jun's Midwestern drama sing laconic rust-belt blues.

Steel City

on May 25, 2007 by John P. McCarthy
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Shot in the writer/director's hometown of Alton, Ill., on a small budget, this quietly affecting drama makes the most of a fine cast and its gray Midwestern locale. Like every facet of the production, the unadorned script doesn't go in for exaggeration or rely on melodrama to tell about the men in the Lee family as they grapple with being fathers, sons, husbands and brothers.

At the outset, PJ (Thomas Guiry), in his late teens or early twenties, and his father Carl (John Heard) are in a car wreck. Someone dies in the other vehicle, and Carl is arrested, but that's all the audience learns. Meanwhile, PJ's older brother Ben (Clayne Crawford) works in the local steel mill and is sleeping with a barmaid, despite having a wife and newborn back home in the trailer. Fed up with years of irresponsible behavior, their mother (Laurie Metcalf) left Carl and is now married to a cop (James McDaniel). With his dad incarcerated and bail money ($300) scarce, PJ is at a loss; he's evicted from their house. The only bright spot in his life is a waitress (America Ferrara) at the restaurant where he washes dishes.

Enter Uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry), Carl's semi-estranged, ex-Marine brother. He finds PJ a better-paying job and lets him move in. The price: PJ must be honest and listen to Vic expound his philosophy of life. As everyone muddles along, the truth about the accident slowly emerges, and Carl has the chance to make amends for the past.

Jun does a fine job of conveying the lack of options the Lee men have professionally and in their relationships. The bleak environment makes it harder to do the right thing and avoid repeating one another's mistakes. As Carl says, it puts a premium on having your “head screwed on.” Depressing though their lot may be, they inch toward reconciliation. Jun, who also edited the film, establishes an unhurried rhythm that's vital to the plausibility of Steel City . Rarely in movies are American males depicted with such subtlety and restraint.
Distributor: Truly Indie
Cast: John Heard, Thomas Guiry, America Ferrera, Clayne Crawford, James McDaniel, Jamie Anne Brown, Laurie Metcalf and Raymond J. Barry
Director/Screenwriter: Brian Jun
Producers: Ryan Harper, Rusty Gray and Brian Jun
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language and brief drug use
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: May 25, 2007 NY

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