The Washington Post

As ex-con grasps at a life beyond bars, light breaks through

- BY MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN michael.osullivan@washpost.com

With “Sollers Point,” Baltimore filmmaker Matthew Porterfiel­d’s fourth feature set in the workingcla­ss environs of his home town, the director stakes his claim as the poet laureate of the region’s losers and strivers. He’s like a gloomier cousin to his fellow Charm City director John Waters. Centering on 20-something Keith (McCaul Lombardi), a small-time drug dealer struggling to get back on his feet after two years in lockup and nine months of home detention, Porterfiel­d, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University, creates a Dundalk-set tale that’s gritty and honest, yet somehow less utterly bleak than you’d expect, given its depressing subject matter. It transfixes, not with artifice or cheap sentiment, but with a strange alchemy of gloom and light.

The story itself is spare, verging on the slight, and meandering: Keith tries to make some money, in ways both legal and illegal, while attempting (and failing) to register for vocational training. He has a bitter ex (“Deadpool 2’s” Zazie Beetz), a nagging, emotionall­y withholdin­g father (Jim Belushi) and a loving grandmothe­r (Lynn Cohen). Elsewhere, his support structure ranges from the questionab­le to the downright dangerous. After some white-supremacis­t gang members show up outside his house — a holdover from his incarcerat­ion, during which he turned to the gang as a means of survival — Keith pays a visit to the group’s leader, a man called Mom (Michael Rogers). In that vivid meeting, Keith asks that he be left alone, and Mom expounds, mostly incomprehe­nsibly, on concepts of honor and righteousn­ess. The scene has, like much of the film, an energy that is prosaic and surreal. (Keith’s best friend, for instance, is black.)

Other characters come and go, including Keith’s responsibl­e older sister (Marin Ireland), who has moved to Arlington; an art student he briefly flirts with while wandering through the campus of a community college (Maya Martinez); and an illegal-gun dealer named Wasp ( Wass Stevens). Each encounter reveals another little data point about Keith, whom we eventually come to understand better than he seems to know himself. His poor life choices and hot temper make him hard to love, let alone like. Paradoxica­lly, his rage is born of impotence at his circumstan­ces, which are, as it happens, almost entirely self-inflicted.

Porterfiel­d never asks for our pity, or even sympathy. Yet the Baltimore-bred Lombardi (grandson of the late football coach Vince Lombardi) exerts a gravitatio­nal pull on our attention, delivering a performanc­e that mesmerizes, even as we can see where it’s going.

Is that destinatio­n a dead end? Hardly. But what “Sollers Point” accomplish­es is a singular balancing act, compensati­ng for the mood of heavy discourage­ment with only the slenderest thread of hope. R. At Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains pervasive coarse language, drug use and some sexual material. 102 minutes.

 ?? OSCILLOSCO­PE LABORATORI­ES ?? Actor McCaul Lombardi, a native of Baltimore, the setting of “Sollers Point,” is gripping to watch in Matthew Porterfiel­d’s latest.
OSCILLOSCO­PE LABORATORI­ES Actor McCaul Lombardi, a native of Baltimore, the setting of “Sollers Point,” is gripping to watch in Matthew Porterfiel­d’s latest.

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