If there is a common theme running through Billy Bob Thornton's dramatic roles, it would have to be a man's search for redemption. It can be found in SLING BLADE, A SIMPLE PLAN, THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, MONSTER'S BALL, THE BADGE, and again in LEVITY, the film directorial debut of screenwriter Ed Solomon. Unlike more 'commercial' actors, who would prefer playing innocent victims framed for crimes (or would be 'heroic' in committing 'justifiable' deeds), Thornton's characters are guilty of their trespasses, and accept their punishment as deserved. This gives his performances a sense of reality that is always interesting to watch.
In LEVITY, Thornton is Manual Jordan, a 'lifer' who has spent over twenty years in prison for shooting and killing a kid during a convenience store robbery, as a youth. The act was not a crime of passion, it was simply an involuntary reaction to a quizzical 'look' the kid gave him, an expression that would bond the two of them for years to come.
When a parole board decides to commute Jordan's sentence ("Why?" he asks, stunned by the decision after saying he was content to remain in prison), the middle-aged man finds himself alone in an alien, indifferent world, with only the kid's 'ghost' as company.
Jordan decides to try and help the victim's sister, Adele (the ageless Holly Hunter), without revealing his identity ("If you're trying to 'hit' on me," she quips, "I have to warn you, over the years, my standards have lowered..."). She has her hands full with a wild teenaged son, and can't quite figure out this taciturn, long-haired vagrant!
Answering a ringing pay phone, Jordan finds his way to a jaded lay minister (Morgan Freeman, excellent, as always), who, recognizing him as an ex-con, provides him with a place to stay, and a job, cleaning and directing teens from a dance club into the broken-down mission he runs, next door. When Jordan tells the old preacher that he doesn't believe in God, the old man snaps, "I'm not asking you to! I'm asking you to work!" One of the rowdy 'club' teens (Kirsten Dunst), the daughter of a 'one-hit wonder' singer on the skids, finds herself drawn to Jordan, despite his obvious disapproval of her lifestyle.
As with all the best 'indies', there is a richness of character in LEVITY, with each actor in top form. Subtly building to a surprising revelation and an emotional climax, the film may not appeal to audiences who prefer pyrotechnics to plot, but if you like movies with believable characters, and an involving story that unfolds at it's own pace, you may find it to be a very rewarding experience!