Putty Hill

9 Jun

Title: Putty Hill
Matthew Porterfield
Writer: Matthew Porterfield, based on a story by himself and Jordan Mintzer
Sky Ferreira, Cody Ray, Dustin Ray, Zoe Vance, James Siebor Jr.
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
87 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


I saw Putty Hill by chance, it wasn’t really in my plans for today but damn am I glad I did. This really is a very special little film, one that feels perfectly intimate in its mood, in the way it’s shot and told and acted, and that by feeling so personal and quiet manages to say a helluva lot of things in some extraordinary ways. I don’t really know how to describe Putty Hill‘s style, it’s so much more than a docudrama, just a very dreamy sort of outlook on the story, one that embraces its characters and its location, that being the outskirts of Baltimore, to finds its form, and that is just simply superb to watch and really easy to lose yourself in.

This is both because of the director, Matthew Porterfield, a native of Baltimore who you just know is very interested in what his city has to tell. Because the way the city finds itself being sort of like another character in this film is something just really special, and the way Mr. Porterfield uses it to tell the story and to shape his characters is truly fascinating to watch. And it’s also because of the cinematographer in this one, Jeremy Saulnier, who works perfectly with the way Mr. Porterfield uses the city and crafts some really gorgeous shots of Baltimore, composing some scenes that are seriously powerful stuff to watch unravel. I’m just kicking myself over why I haven’t yet watched their previous collaboration (and Mr. Porterfield’s only other directing effort) 2006’s Hamilton, which also has them tackle a very intimate story set in Baltimore.

The plot of Putty Hill really isn’t all that important, I mean, it’s about this young guy who has unfortunately died from an overdose and the people who get together for his memorial. And the looks and silences shared by these people say just as much, if not more, than the words they share, either with each other or with an off-screen interviewer who seems to be shooting some sort of documentary and who gives us that much needed glance into their lives. And even though you know this is all fictional, the line between that and real stuff is really blurry, not only is the way that Putty Hill is told and shot very realistic and raw, but the performances are, too, all given by non-professional actors (except Sky Ferreira, who’s a singer on the rise) that feel very real in the roles they are given and add to this very edgy sort of overall feel the film has.

I was just in awe of Putty Hill as I watched it, and even though I most likely won’t grade it in the A-range I honestly cannot recommend it enough. If only just to see how an effortless blend of documentary and fiction should be done, to see how a genuinely independent film can go so deep into so many subjects without saying very much at all, how non-professional actors can make a portrait of a slice of life in Baltimore feel so incredibly raw, it’s just incredible.

And what’s so damn great about how the film unravels itself is that it never takes on even the slightest sense of trying to push a message. I mean, you never get any sort of cinematically transcendent soul-searching done by any of them, not even in the little interview skits, nor do you get any sort of over-done grieving by any of them, this group of people wouldn’t work even in the most boring of reality shows, and that’s because they actually feel real, which is something easier said than done in today’s movie world.

It’s just cool to see how vibrant it all feels as these kids are asked questions about their lives and their friend who just passed away, as we see them in their preferred hangout spots. Mr. Porterfield apparently told his cast that when he asked them questions about themselves, they should answer like themselves, and only make something up when he asked them about the deceased, and that’s why this film feels like it does, that’s why I say the plot doesn’t matter, and that’s why even though the questions asked are simple ones you get answers that feel tremendously deep and honest, even though this film never ever feels as though it’s positioning itself to make some sort of grand and uncalled for social commentary.

This is just brilliant indie film-making, a film shot in 12 days, with a cast of people with little to none acting experience, telling stories that were pretty much all very real and that felt very real, and all shot wonderfully in a location that gave the perfect vibe for the story, Baltimore, that has a creek and skatepark among many other places that are part of the story and that add a lot to its overall feel. If you have the chance to watch Putty Hill, don’t pass it up, it’s one of the most terrific cinematic surprises I’ve had in quite some time. Yes, at the end of it all something may feel a little off because you were never really given the chance to truly connect to any of these characters, but even that feels truthful, you’re not being manipulated to feel anything, you’re just there to observe, feel about that as you may.

Grade: B+


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