Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie Review - Welcome to Pine Hill

Writer-director Keith Miller joins filmmakers like Benh Zeitlin as white men who somehow manage to capture an authentic black experience, while at the same time presenting an unique black character that perhaps has not been put to screen before. Miller expands on his short film Prince/William about two men who argue over the ownership of a pitbull. We then follow the dog's owner, as he says goodbye to the people in his life and retreats to a rustic place, possibly in upstate New York, called Pine Hill to live out the remainder of his days.

Shannon Harper stars as Abu, a heavyset black man in his mid to late thirties who has a bit of a checkered past, possibly one involving drug dealing, but who now works for an insurance company taking and handling accident claims, mostly car accidents. Ironically, Abu doesn't have insurance himself. He clearly is a man who is trying to start his life over again. As a result, he's cut ties with the people who used to be in his life. It's not as if he refuses to see people in his past, but he's alone and clearly so by choice.

Once Abu decides to say goodbye and retreat to Pine Hill, this leads to interactions and scenes with other people that are some of the most genuine and authentic interactions that I'm not convinced weren't actual interactions, which Miller simply captured documentary-style.

For example, Abu visits a group of friends who are hanging out and having beers in a person's Brooklyn backyard. As a black man, I've been to backyard parties that have been or played out exactly as this scene does. Yet, one does not have to be a black man to feel that the dialogue and the actions here are real or more real than a lot of scripted scenes like this. So much so, I'm not sure this scene was even scripted.

Abu also visits his mom and that scene also has a stark reality that is very authentic. It feels unscripted in all the best ways. It's ironic because the subject matter in Abu's visit with his mother is about how he's changed and how that's a good thing. Yet, in Abu's visit with his friends, the subject matter is about how he's changed but how that's a bad thing. It's brilliant because it does tap into this idea of how men, particularly black men, are around their friends as opposed to their mothers.

There are also other interactions, interactions with people of different races or ethnicities that are powerful and very effective. At times, you see people making presumptions about who Abu is and other times, you see Abu making presumptions about others. A scene with an Ecuadorian cab driver is Abu being guilty of the same thing he accuses a white guy at the bar for which he's a bouncer. It shows the interesting layers to this character that make him compelling.

Miller then makes the third act of this movie like a Kelly Reichardt film. In Reichardt's films like Old Joy, Wendy & Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, Miller's movie also has his protagonist, a black male, be adrift in the world or in nature, having ultimately to surrender to the environment. I don't think that's something that one sees in movies often, a black man surrendering to nature or even a black man embracing nature hardly at all.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.

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