- B Community Grade
- Running time: 0 minutes
A resident of rural Illinois, Stephen Fielding has lived a life of neglect, violence, and abandonment. Born to an abusive mother, then circulated among foster families, group homes, and an aged step-grandmother, he's been hurt or left behind by seemingly everyone he's ever known. It's a story written on his teeth–all lost, rotten for lack of attention, or worse–and it's a story that Hoop Dreams and Prefontaine director Steve James can't tell without implicating himself to some degree, however marginally. During his early-'80s college years, James was a Big Brother to Fielding. James began the film in 1995 out of a desire to discover what happened to the difficult child he'd mentored and left behind. He found a difficult man. Fielding wears the same easy smile, but now trails behind him a marriage destroyed by his violence and a string of arrests for a variety of petty offenses. He has, as James admits, essentially lived out the director's worst fears for what could have happened to him. The first suggestion that James' film will not take the course he'd hoped comes early. On his second visit, he brings his children and his wife Judy, a counselor who also knew Fielding when James was mentoring him. Over the course of a kitchen-table conversation, Fielding's confessions pile up and the mood turns so ugly that Judy escorts the children out of the room. They never appear again as Stevie stretches through the years, taking an even worse turn when Fielding is arrested and accused of molesting his 8-year-old niece. Neither condemning nor forgiving, the film is a model of documentary evenhandedness, even though James makes no claims of objectivity. He begins hoping that Fielding will have changed the course of his life, and ends it with a wish that Fielding's life will find some form of hope. In the long stretch between, he takes Stevie deep into the world that shaped Fielding, speaking with his mother (the focus of much of his anger), the sister who looks after him in spite of the abuse he visited on her, and the community that's come to fear the odd boy they watched grow up. Fielding's past reveals explanations for his deeds, if not excuses for them, and much of Stevie's drama comes from his reluctance to recognize his own crimes, and the suggestion that such a recognition might change his life. His actions may be monstrous, but Fielding is still human, and James' film cultivates a rooting interest for his soul.