#With: Suli McCullough, Raynor Scheine.
Adour, if heartfelt, study of a young man dealt a lifelong losing hand, “The Fence” remains too modest in aim and accomplishment to mark off much commercial terrain for itself. First feature by former Berlin-based real estate developer Peter Pistor displays a feel for the underbelly of urban American life but doesn’t offer audiences much in the way of edification or entertainment. Minor theatrical prospects internationally will quickly make way for longer vid life.
Peter Fedorenko’s semi-autobiographical screenplay charts the sad life story of Terry Griff, who as a teen is bounced into juve detention for killing his abusive dad in self-defense and is subsequently sent to prison for stabbing a guard.
Out on the streets for the first time in 13 years, Terry (Billy Wirth) resolves to go straight, but understandably finds it difficult. Hanging in a Chicago hood, he looks up Jackie (Erica Gimpel), the attractive but defensive sister-in-law of his best friend, who O.D.’d in prison. He soon gets a job in a foundry, but when he half-strangles his parole officer for ripping him off, he finds himself back in the criminal subculture, pulling a heist with a two-bit street hustler. Ending is poignant/fatalistic in 1940s noir fashion.
Pistor relates this downbeat story in suitably muted fashion, and the options open to Terry seem realistically limited. But aside from his momentary flirtation with the workaday world, Terry never develops much as a character, so pic’s dramatic range remains constricted and somewhat monotonous.
Interracial aspects are well handled (almost every character aside from Billy and the chief villain is black), and pic cannot be reproached for its sincerity and unblinking view of a bleak urban landscape, only for its small stature in a demanding marketplace.
Up-and-comer Wirth broods and smolders like a young John Cassavetes in conveying Terry’s hurt and fear. Other perfs are mostly engaging, while tech contributions are modestly in line with pic’s other aspirations.