Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

The atmos­phere in “Lev­i­ty” is cold, gloomy, and unset­tling. It remains this way until the end because the sto­ry is emo­tion­al and the char­ac­ters have plen­ty of tears to shed.

Bil­ly Bob Thorn­ton stars as Manuel Jor­dan, a crim­i­nal freed from prison after hav­ing served a 22-year sen­tence for mur­der. Now a lib­er­at­ed man, Jor­dan only seeks one thing: to find his way back into soci­ety. But along the way he meets Adele Ease­ly, who just hap­pens to be the sis­ter of his victim.

The two slow­ly devel­op a rela­tion­ship, even though Ease­ly does­n’t know about Jor­dan’s past. Adele is a strong woman who’s been through a lot, but has found a way to com­bat her tragedies and devel­op an inner strength. And when she dis­cuss­es her broth­er, she refers to him as a “sta­tis­tic,” just anoth­er num­ber. Hol­ly Hunter chan­nels her pain so dis­creet­ly. She devel­ops the char­ac­ter with such sim­plic­i­ty, clus­ter­ing her emo­tions in a cor­ner of her heart and mak­ing them evi­dent only when she recalls the inci­dent (which is rare). Glo­ri­ous portrayal.

Jor­dan, on the oth­er hand, is extreme­ly qui­et. He seems to speak slow­ly, as if he were always search­ing for words, which is nor­mal since he does­n’t know how to inter­act with peo­ple or in oth­er sur­round­ings after being in prison for so many years. Thorn­ton him­self has played this role many times. He’s more the obser­vant man sit­ting in a cor­ner — always think­ing and ana­lyz­ing. When he does speak, it is clear but bro­ken. That style is quite suit­able here. Even his phys­i­cal pres­ence, the long hair, the slouchy walk, and the look of puri­ty, help to con­vey this idea. It’s actu­al­ly hard to believe that he com­mit­ted a mur­der, because he appears soft and tidy on the out­side. That’s what prison does to crim­i­nals, teach­es them harsh lessons on the inside so that they nev­er wish they were back in prison again. I love that aspect of his char­ac­ter too, that we feel he’s afraid to crawl back in a cell and that he is watch­ing every move and word he says all to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing again.

In Ease­ly’s neigh­bor­hood is a youth cen­ter oper­at­ed by Preach­er Miles Evans (Mor­gan Free­man). The cen­ter just hap­pens to be sit­u­at­ed across the street from an extreme­ly pop­u­lar night­club. For a small time (but no mon­e­tary) invest­ment, peo­ple can park their cars in Evans’ lot — free of charge. The invest­ment, of course, is sign­ing in and lis­ten­ing to one of his 15-minute ser­mons. Free­man is an actor that can prob­a­bly play any role. He has played great detec­tives, took on major roles in epic films, and has even done some com­e­dy work (i.e. cast as God in “Bruce Almighty”). Here, he takes on a small­er part, but his char­ac­ter adds a great deal to the sto­ry. He fits in just right, for sig­nif­i­cant reasons.

But the key issue is Jor­dan and his mis­sion, which is to con­fess his sin to Ease­ly, which we know he’ll even­tu­al­ly ful­fill. At the end, the char­ac­ters each leave the screen with a new atti­tude and a new direc­tion. Solomon does­n’t sup­ply us with the stan­dard pos­i­tive end­ing. It is nei­ther sun­ny nor bright. There isn’t that warm assur­ance of opti­mism and right­eous­ness. No rejoice. No mer­ri­ment. No smiles what­so­ev­er, only deep breaths and sad faces. But the char­ac­ters expe­ri­ence transformations.

Ed Solomon appar­ent­ly worked on Lev­i­ty for 20 years. He could­n’t find the right time to write the sto­ry or tell it cor­rect­ly. But he recent­ly found a voice and decid­ed to come back to it and com­plete it. I was­n’t great­ly touched or moved by the sto­ry’s deep depress­ing nature. Dar­ren Aronof­sky clev­er­ly suc­ceed­ed at dis­heart­en­ing us with his “Requiem For A Dream.” “Lev­i­ty’s” inten­tions are sim­i­lar, but not as effective.

Solomon leaves us in a hos­pi­tal room. It is the one ster­ile place that every­one dreads, the one place no one wants to vis­it. Solomon may be try­ing to say some­thing about out­comes, how we don’t always choose them but how we must deal with them in the best of ways. And he ends by say­ing a thing or two about life and the way he visions it through the eyes of his char­ac­ters. Odd­ly enough, the moral of the sto­ry (as well as the film’s clos­ing image) remind­ed me of a famous poem by author Robert Frost called Stop­ping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. His clos­ing words: “The woods are love­ly, dark and deep. 
But I have promis­es to keep.
 And miles to go before I sleep.
 And miles to go before I sleep.”


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