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With: Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Kirsten Dunst, Holly Hunter
Written by: Ed Solomon
Directed by: Ed Solomon
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/16/2003

Levity (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Funny Peculiar

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Screenwriter Ed Solomon (the Bill and Ted movies, Men in Black) isgoing to have a bit of trouble with the title of his directorial debutLevity.

The film begins with convicted murderer Manuel (Billy Bob Thornton) being released from jail after 23 years. Ordinarily this would be cause for celebration, but Manuel does not wish to be released. He does not feel he's been completely redeemed for his act, and in fact does not feel he'll ever earn true redemption.

Wandering around quiet, snowy Chicago (actually Canada), Manuel happens upon a ringing phone. No, it's not a sniper; it's Miles Evans (Morgan Freeman), a preacher who needs some help in his business. Miles runs a parking lot near a hot club and lets the teens park there in exchange for listening to 15 minutes of his sermon.

Miles gives Manuel a room and asks him to supervise a group of black youths in the afternoons. Fortunately, Manuel gets help from another lost soul, teenage Sofia (Kirsten Dunst), who lives in an empty mansion with her faded former pop star mother.

Manuel eventually decides to at least try for redemption by entering the life of Adele Easely (Holly Hunter), the sister of the boy Manuel killed. He doesn't tell her who he is or what he'd done, but instead tries to help out by providing guidance to her own troubled son.

Solomon, making his directorial debut with the help of master cinematographer Roger Deakins (Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There), guides his characters with grace and feeling, concentrating more on moods and moments than on plot development; the film actually plays more like a short story than a feature film. The filmmakers use snow and windows and empty rooms as perfect reflections of their lost characters.

Solomon's supreme choice of actors betrays his good taste. Thornton occupies Manuel like he's dead and drifting. (One complaint: that awful, fake wig.) And Freeman, Dunst and Hunter are all superb at living in individual moments; they're all actors as comfortable with silences as they are with speaking. You can read things in their eyes. It's a dream cast.

So what does all this have to do with the title, Levity? More than likely, it's an ironic reference to the things that Manuel is not. Still, many reviewers have jumped on the title as some kind of betrayal or misrepresentation, which is a bit extreme -- and misses the point.

For a man who sent Bill and Ted to meet with God and the Devil, Solomon has already shown how irreverently funny he can be. Now he proves he can be reverent, and relevant, too.

DVD Details: This wonderful little film was lost in the shuffle, either ignored or given lukewarm notices by reviewers who misunderstood it. Yet it's a terrific movie with a short story pace and feel, concentrating on mood and character rather than plot twists. Levity was a labor of love for Ed Solomon, the Hollywood screenwriter behind "Bill & Ted" movies and Men in Black as well as credits on Charlie's Angels and The In-Laws. When I spoke with Solomon last spring, he could barely contain his passion for the film. Sadly, his commentary track on Columbia/TriStar's new DVD ($24.95) is far more restrained.

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