Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Movie Review: "Stevie".

What's the mark of a good movie?

Emotionally affecting? Thought-provoking? Engaging story?

If you believe all or some of these are hallmarks of a good film, I recommend "Stevie" (2003), which I saw on DVD today. "Stevie" is a documentary crafted by a maker of another compelling movie, "Hoop Dreams" (1994), Steve James. The title, "Stevie", is not a self-aggrandizing reference to Mr. James. Rather, the title refers to Stevie Fielding.

1. Synopsis.

Stevie Fielding was a troubled 11 year-old, raised by his step-grandmother, when Steve James became his Advocate Big Brother in the early 1980s. The two Steves lost touch when James relocated to Chicago to begin a film career in 1985. Ten years later, James visited Stevie with cameras in tow. At the start of the film, James sought to learn what had happened to Stevie over the previous ten years and also to understand the forces that had shaped him. During filming, however, Stevie was arrested and charged with a serious crime. As a result, the scope of the movie expanded into an over four year chronicle of Stevie, his broken family, the criminal justice system and the filmmaker, as they all dealt with what Stevie has done and who he has become.

2. Reactions.

If you are a human being, I don't see how this movie could leave you unaffected. The movie elicits tremendous sympathy and compassion for a troubled person, whose life circumstances cannot excuse what he has done, but they do provide an unsettling context to ponder.

The film also provides an interesting religious dimension. Religion is portrayed mostly positively. First, Stevie revisits a couple who cared for him as foster parents before his life came apart. They showed him unconditional love, even after all those years and his confessions of a long criminal history. Stevie responded extremely well to them, who were obviously believers. A reconciliation theme runs through the movie. Religion provides an impetus for reconciliations, including with his mother, and his relationship with God. In fact, Steve is baptized in the movie. The director (Steve James) even remarked to Stevie that he saw his softening to religion as a reason for hope when he mostly lost all hope for Stevie.

Finally, once again, this movie provides a disturbing insight into how the criminal legal system deals with poor people (much like "Aileen: Life and Death of Serial Killer" (2003), which I wrote about in a post entitled, "Monster"). You'll meet Stevie's public defender, you'll witness an appellate court argument in his case, and see Stevie deal with his options such as a plea bargain that would have set him free, sentencing and incarceration.

"Stevie" receives an "A-".