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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 09/18/1997,

The Keeper

This impressive debut from Harvard grad Joe Brewster is a deft, often chilling look at the underexplored dynamic of guard/prisoner relations. An aspiring law student who works as a corrections officer, Paul Lamont (Giancarlo Esposito) is compassionate and civil toward inmates, as opposed to his co-workers, who are abusive and tyrannical.

When Haitian baker Jean Baptiste (Chocolat's Isaach de Bankole) is wrongly accused of rape, Paul pities him and puts up his bail. But when Jean shows up on his doorstep, Lamont must confront his own motives, as well as his repressed Haitian heritage, which Jean proudly wears like a banner. Charmed by this regal stranger, Paul and his wife temporarily overcome their marital stress . . . only to have their lives shattered by violence.

Brewster's script is rooted in his own experience as a prison psychiatrist. With detailed characterization and stellar performances (particularly from de Bankole and Esposito), the film avoids cinematic stereotypes, providing an intelligent, disarming glimpse inside walls that house a disproportionate number of young black men. At the Coolidge Corner.

-- Peg Aloi