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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