After making his hit documentary Hoop Dreams in 1994, Steve James took his camera to rural southern Illinois and sought out Stevie Fielding, a troubled young man to whom James had, while in college, served as a Big Brother. If the film that resulted is remarkably unpleasant for most of its two hours and 20 minutes, thatís not just because of the horrific details of Stevieís life (which the movie has the merit at least of bringing to light), but also because of the filmmakerís constant foregrounding of his own dour compassion and tight-lipped misgivings. One of Jamesís voiceovers sums it up: " Stevie had wanted to be in this film so that he could spend time with me. And there I was repaying him by putting his tortured life on display. "
A shot near the end speaks volumes about Jamesís style and concerns: after Stevieís girlfriend suggests that " something good came out of " the process of shooting the film, the handheld camera moves in to a close-up of James looking skeptical, detached, and grim. Itís possible to admire Jamesís honesty in making his bad conscience so apparent, but he never confronts with any clarity the question that looms over his film: why make it? (140 minutes)