(Raymond J. Barry, Tom Guiry, America Ferrera, et al / DVD / R / (2005) 2008 / Peace Arch Entertainment)
Overview: When PJ Lee's (Tom Guiry) father (John Heard) is arrested for vehicular manslaughter, it's just the icing on the cake for a teen whose life is already difficult, thanks to a broken home and dysfunctional relationships. In short order, PJ gets fired, has a falling out with his girlfriend (America Ferrera) and is kicked out of the family home. Through it all, however, the film -- which earned a Grand Jury nod at the Sundance Film Festival - manages to strike a hopeful tone
DVD Verdict: "Steel City" is one of the most hopeful movies I've seen recently - not just for its humane, realistic story line (about a small-town family in crisis), but in its very being. Young writer-director Brian Jun's outwardly melancholy, inwardly affirmative film is about a broken family reacting to the approaching jail term of the wayward father who left them years ago: John Heard's Carl Lee, who was involved in a fatal car accident and now faces stiff jail time for vehicular homicide. The Lee family story is told through Carl's son PJ (Thomas Guiry), whose job and life are falling apart as his dad's sentence looms - and who was involved in the accident, it seems, more than he's admitted.
Shot in Jun's hometown, Alton, Ill. - a very real-looking town with a decaying downtown and not a speck of false glamor - "Steel City" is in some ways a typical family drama. But it's constructed and executed more like a good short novel or play than the average film. The characters change and affect each other as we watch. PJ's girlfriend Amy (played by "Ugly Betty's" wonderful America Ferrera) brings out his tender, open-hearted side. His brother Ben (Clayne Crawford) triggers more threat; Ben is a cocky, narcissistic womanizer who cheats on his wife and bullies PJ, not always playfully. PJ's mother, Marianne (Laurie Metcalf), is more removed from him, remarried to a salty-wise, nice-guy local cop (James McDaniel). Meanwhile, PJ himself winds up in the care of the family's most functional member (and the film's best performer), tough-talking, fatherly Uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry).
There' a very macho feel to "Steel City," but Jun's movie is about men who treat their wives and families irresponsibly (or simply avoid the issue, like bachelor Vic) and who finally have to pay the piper. Superficially, that might not seem like such a powerful or important theme. But, of course, it is.
As for the acting, it's the film's strongest element. Such first-rate talents as Ferrera, Metcalf, Barry and Heard (a familiar actor who deserves to be celebrated much more for his classic noir performance as the druggie vet Cutter in "Cutter's Way") are not just making appearances but playing at the top of their game. There is not a single scene that doesn't convey reality, whether raw, steely or gentle. And there are plenty of searing moments: the slow-burn and sudden explosion when the two brothers fight, Carl's last leave-taking or almost any of the scenes involving Barry's Vic. Dennis Hopper once said of Gene Hackman that "Gene's an automatic truth machine," and that's what much of the acting is like here. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Filmmaker & Cast Commentary - Featuring Director of Photography Ryan Samul, John Heard and Clayne Crawford
"For Jimmy Brown" - A Short Film by Writer/Director Brian Jun
Filmmaker Commentary - Featuring Writer/Director Brian Jun and Director of Photography Ryan Samul
Steel City Trailer