Two superb, nervy and delicately nuanced performances by newcomers Clint Jordan and Kirsten Russell enliven and momentarily elevate writer-director Joe Maggio’s “Virgil Bliss” above the familiar post-prison-drama cliches to which it so strenuously adheres. Pic, which will surprise no one who has seen “Straight Time,” “The Shawshank Redemption” or any number of other, similarly themed pics, may see some festival life on the strength of its two lead thesps.
After making parole, Virgil (Jordan) tries to walk the straight and narrow, falls for a small-time hooker (Russell) and tries to ward off the temptation of returning to a life of crime. Unfortunately, little of interest is added here to the cinema’s discussion of the effects of incarceration. But even in the final act, when pic veers into hopelessly convoluted territory, Jordan and Russell maintain a sense of two complex characters who are constantly evolving. Shot digitally, and presented as a low-resolution computer output at its Slamdance premiere, pic’s extensive use of violently jittery handheld lensing weakens as many scenes as it enhances.