Appealing lensing, earnest playing and good intentions fail to overcome fundamental screenplay weaknesses in “Under the Bridge,” an episodic look at the lives of loosely federated homeless people scrounging on the Brooklyn riverfront. Simultaneously slick and clumsy, project from scripter-helmer Charles Weinstein in his feature debut suffers from a righteous, superior tone, which is almost certainly inadvertent. Well-meaning and visually handsome indie effort may be slightly useful in raising awareness of the plight of the homeless , but is more random than wrenching in its particulars.
Sammy (Damien Leake), a good-humored black man who lures crab and other delicacies out of the East River, explains in voiceover that he lives in the Hellhole — a decrepit concrete shell of a warehouse owned by a Pole who pays another Hellhole resident, John (Zach Grenier), $ 200 a month to see it doesn’t burn or decay further. John, who claims to love the unfettered lifestyle, allows Kathy (Melissa Leo) — a woman from a good family whose heroin habit finds her hooking for fix money — to bunk on the premises. John’s younger brother Mikey (Bruce MacVittie) is a two-bit hustler who’s fond of crack.
Into their established routine of subsistence living comes a runaway child, a cute black pipsqueak called Shiner (Matthew Weathers). But Shiner isn’t the narrative glue the filmmaker seems to think he is. Pic sports a few quasi-poignant and promising theatrical bits, but for every convincing sequence, there’s a forced or contrived incident to detract from the cumulative impact.
With good tech contributions and a decent cast, all problems are on the script level. Dialogue is either too pompous, too formal or too crude, and rarely rings true. Voiceover is used at fairly random junctures, a recurring analogy about Jonah and the whale doesn’t quite click, the physical consequences of Kathy’s addiction feel arbitrary, and Shiner’s presence never truly fuses the scattered characters.
Pic was lensed entirely on location among authentic debris in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Helmer’s older brother provides a mellow, semi-jazz score.