Google 90 Feet From Home and you get that Shawn “The Heartbreak Kid” Michaels is starring as an alcoholic, abusive stepfather to two teenage boys just trying to survive. Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that director/screenwriter Brett Bentman’s script has its basis in reality. Sit back and watch the film – and recognize that any path to forgiveness is harder than the average made-for-church-basements flick makes it.
Real life is dirty.
In this film, that refers to the distance between third base (or first base, depending on your perspective) from homeplate, Jimmy (Michaels) beats Scott (Adam Hampton) badly, discouraging him (that’s putting it mildly) from pursuing his dream of Major League Baseball, while intimidating him into submission with threats against his brother, Tommy (Thom Hallum), and mother. This is the ‘past’ of Bentman’s film, as fifteen years later, an out-of-baseball Scott returns home with revenge on his mind.
The film doesn’t play. I can’t say it strongly enough. This is more Mystic River than anything the Kendrick brothers have ever considered, ripe with expletives and violence that isn’t window dressing. The impact of the physical abuse, a drunk driving accident, life in prison, violence in self-defense – all of these play out on screen in a gripping, criminal noir in a Western town sort of way reminisce of 2016’s Hell or High Water. But the payoff is … fantastic.
Hampton, Thallum, and Michaels are terrific as the forces of nature at the center of the drama. Hampton clearly allows us to see the tragedy of youth borne across his face – his anger simmering below the surface. But somehow, in all three of these men, the violence and tragedy are constantly balanced against their humanity, their souls, in a way that never allows us to say that this is a story about “them,” while “we” or “us” remains outside of the circle, free and clear.
See, while Scott was off playing baseball and Tommy was becoming a police detective (and caring for their dying mother, getting married, and having a kid), Jimmy served hard time – and found Jesus. Or maybe Jesus found him. But the ‘finding Jesus’ part isn’t sickly sweet and sacramental, it’s bathed in booze and heartache and loneliness and ex-con related hardship that doesn’t make life after prison with Jesus an amusement park ride at Busch Gardens.
Jimmy, Scott, and Tommy are all broken men who find themselves wrestling with their sins and their responsibilities, their broken dreams and their leftover hope for the future. And in the end, each of them has to choose what they’re going to do with that hope. Because even after meeting Jesus, there is still hell to pay for all of the people we hurt along the way, before and after that meeting. Peace for all of that comes with a heavy price.