Dir/scr. Brian Jun. US 2006. 95 min.
An overlooked gem in Sundance's USdramatic competition, Steel City is awell-written and solidly-performed exploration of working-class male angst seenthrough the eyes of two very different sons as they struggle with the legacy oftheir dead-beat father.
The achievement is all the more impressivegiven that debut filmmaker Brian Jun carried such a heavy load in the creditroll: screenwriter, director, producer and editor. Its principal hurdle interms of attracting a theatrical deal is cast
The inciting incident occurs entirelyoff-screen. Black and white stills show Carl Lee (Heard) being escorted bypolice from the scene of a fatal car crash; drunk-driving is clearly the crime.The action begins as Carl's teenage son PJ (Guiry) is questioned by police andapologises on behalf of his father. It's something he and his brother have beendoing most of their lives, since the day Carl left his two young boys and theirmother. That day, shot in flashback from three points of view, proves to be apivotal visual motif in a film that otherwise employs no other cinematicdevices.
Between visits to his father in prison andliaisons with a young Latina (Ferrara) he can't quite accept as his girlfriend,PJ is in turmoil. He oscillates between attraction to and resentment of theworld, particularly his mother (Metcalf), a nurse, and her second husband(McDaniel), a cop in the small Rustbelt town. Older brother Ben (Crawford) isblindly following in his father's footsteps, cheating on his wife, carelesswith his life and job, drinking heavily. But PJ finds unexpected guidance fromhis uncle, Vic (Barry), his father's estranged brother, a Vietnam veteran whohas seen his own share of trouble and recognizes a familial trait when he seesone.
The power of the film lies in the dynamicrelationships. In tightly written two-person sequences, Jun graduallyconstructs the emotional landscape, presenting two sides to every story, forcing the viewer to give equalweight to the worldviews of his characters. By not singling out a particularperson as "better" than another, he doesn't over-play the sentiment. It's amodel of restrained screenwriting - again impressive in a debut feature.
For this reason, a third act plot twisthits with unexpected impact, at once subverting but ultimately confirming Jun'sunderlying theme that everyone deserves a chance to tell his side of the story.Having passed judgment on Heard's Carl, the viewer is forced to reconsidereverything that has transpired in a new and harsher light.
If any complaints can be leveled it is withthe pedestrian television-style editing and the heavy use of plangent guitarchords. Jun would do well to trust his material, re-visit the picture with amore seasoned editor and turn down the volume on a score that unnecessarilyunderscores a story already eloquent in its telling.
Production companies: Your Half Pictures
International sales: Traction Media
Producers: Ryan Harper, Brian Jun, RustyGray
Cinematography: Ryan Samul
Editor: Brian Jun
Music: Mark Geary
Main cast: John Heard, Tom Guiry, AmericaFerrara, Clayne Crawford, Laurie Metcalf, Raymond J. Barry