Though it's a small story about a young man trying to rebuild his life following an extended house arrest for drug dealing, director Matthew Porterfield's sad, quiet Sollers Point is set against a larger canvas of a dying rust belt city and the emotional struggles of its people. Keith (McCaul Lombardi), is repeatedly told "no"—by his parole officer; by his twice-shy ex-girlfriend Courtney (Atlanta's Zazie Beetz); by a trade school director. When he's denied admission to an HVAC certification program, he starts looking for work dealing again—nobody except the gangs finds him useful.
The loose, seemingly improvisational performances bolster the film's unstudied realism and surface the hope and despair of the characters. Porterfield attends to the quotidian details of this economically scarred landscape and its people. Shot in Dundalk, Maryland, an unincorporated community in Baltimore County, the film is a collage of chain-link fences, graffiti-illuminated overpasses, crumbling pavement. Keith visits lawn mower repair shops, condemned houses, backyards and work sites, reconnecting—or failing to connect—with old friends and acquaintances. Lacking impulse control, and deeply frustrated, he also backs an old enemy into a corner by smashing out his van windows during a road rage incident.
Keith's sincerity and depth of feeling are embodied in Lombardi's performance and embroidered with details such as his pining for Courtney's dog, and the treasures he keeps under his bed -- including his sketchbook and a book about the Illuminati. It makes sense that this character would think this book is smart and seek to identify the unseen masterminds who would deny his future. He's a striking figure, shouldering the weight of his own demons, along with the burdens of an economy weaponized against poor people.