Putty Hill surveys the effects of an overdose on a working-class family
Sharing the narrative opacity and marginal milieu of Hamilton, its 2006 predecessor, Putty Hill, the assured feature-length followup from Matt Porterfield, surveys the effects of a young man's overdose death on his extended working-class family. And like the militantly decentralized storytelling that Porterfield favors, their grief surfaces in flashes but pointedly resists cohesion. The clan members all but bounce off one another as they gather for Cory's wake and funeral: His teenage sister, Zoe (Zoe Vance), can't wait to bug out of the titular northeastern Baltimore suburb after the services, while brother James (James Siebor Jr.) spends the morning blithely playing paintball. The closest anyone comes to open emotion is when cousin Jenny (Sky Ferreira, the only professional performer in the cast) breaks down over having to spend the night at the home of her ex-con father (Charles Sauers). Porterfield intersperses these delicately underplayed scenes with doc-style question-and-answer exchanges that, while initially jarring, achieve maximum cumulative impact: Beneath the ostensible indifference of the not-quite mourners lurks a stoic acceptance of bad decisions and worse luck that has metastasized into numb resignation. Like the scenes of poor, dead Cory's deserted shooting-gallery house that bookend the film, his kin's lack of affect is inscrutable, potent and sad.
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