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Steel City (2006)

Steel City. Feature film. (2006, 95 mins) IMDB

...Another film set in a rust-bucket town where young uneducated, adults have few choices....

T

he first ten minutes of this film is so confusing I almost turned it off. Why? It was disorientating. We see a series of cuts (forward and back) with a great number of characters, none of whom we recognize except for John Heard. It was impossible to make sense of anything that was happening. I know what they were trying to do. They tried to evoke interest by setting out a calamitous event, to raise our curiosity and interest, but instead of doing that, they created confusion.

Fortunately, the confusion stops as the narrative straightens out and we can begin to recognize all the various characters.

The film takes place in any of numerous rust-bucket towns in Ohio or thereabouts. A working class town with few employment options. People aren't educated enough to get very far.

There's a father and two sons. The father neglected his family when the sons were growing up. The wife left and remarried to a black police officer.

The father is in jail, but for the longest time, the story never tells us all the details. We have to assume or guess.

The film focuses on the consequence to the younger son since he's father was arrested. They lived together in a small, dirty house. The son washes dishes in a restaurant to make a living but obviously hates it and gets fired.

With no income or money to keep the house, the water and electricity are turned off and he is evicted. With only a truck filled with personal belongings, he has no where to go. His mother won't or can't take him in. His uncle does him a favour and lets him stay, but he wears out his welcome.

He has fights with his older brother who is an irresponsible, lying, womanizing drunk. We see him lose his wife and child, about to lose his job in a steel plant.

John Heard as the father is completely not right for the role. He plays characters with education, with money, with status. I never once believed him in the role.

The son shows an interest in becoming a cop. The only reason, I suspect, is it's a job. By the end of the movie, he's gone through academy and a posting, yet we never see any of this.

The film's big secret is the event that resulted in the father being arrested. We never learn all the details about what happened other than there was a car accident and some woman died. Then, in a scene in the jail cell where the father and son talk, the big reveal: the son was driving, not the father and therefore the son should be in jail, but if the son was convicted, he wouldn't be able to become a cop. This aspect of the story was hinted at during the confusing first ten minutes of the story and by this point it loses any power it has.

The way the story is shown is definitely how it might happen in real life, but stories aren't real life. The writer/director of this story made bad choices. Perhaps he saw CRASH (the Paul Haggis film) and wanted to follow that line, but there's a difference. In CRASH each scene stands on its own. There's something compelling and different in each scene. Further, we know what is happening in the scenes, but later when they come together at a different level, we are impressed and taken away with the power of the story.

In this film, we are confused and bored and yawn and under whelmed. The story would have been better told with a straight narrative where the son is looking to be a cop, then we see the accident, then the conspiracy and cover-up and so on until we reach a conclusion. That would have been a much better film to watch because there would have been something at stake. Instead we see a son who takes action not by choice, but by necessity.

The writer perhaps thought the big reveal, the sacrifice of the father at the end, was poignant and significant and a twist to jolt the viewer, but it doesn't work.

Posted 2009/02/21 at 16h22ET in Movie Commentary.

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