Manuel Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton), whose long locks are a conspicuous confection, doesn’t want to be let out of prison. It’s one thing to think he shouldn’t be released but Manual openly tells the parole board he should be made to serve out his life sentence. He killed seventeen-year-old, Abner Easley (Geoffrey Wigdor), during a convenience store robbery and has been doing time for his murder for over twenty years. If this is the point where the parole board are supposed to give him puppy dog eyes, they don’t. Flat out annoyed that he hasn’t thanked them, they resume his early releasement post-haste.
Wandering the streets without a destination, not having a plan allows life to happen to Manuel in ways that are beyond his prediction. Parking lot attendant wasn’t the career he imagined for himself but when he answers a pay phone call meant for Dwayne, he gets hired on the spot. Morgan Freeman attempts to distance himself from his velvety voice as the caller, Miles Evans. His scratchy, sandpaper brogue is more trouble than the water he must have had to drink to keep it up.
Levity is not without its hackneyed indulgences (Abner’s ghost periodically visits) but the times embellishments are avoided matter, particularly the key scene of Manuel remembering the day he murdered Abner. Knowing how much Manual holds himself accountable for what he’s done there is nothing automatically sympathetic about the act itself. This wasn’t an accident. He didn’t get spooked and pull the trigger on reflex. There was no need to shoot the young man to get away, or grab the cash. Manuel doesn’t act like there’s an explanation and he’s not being hard on himself.
Manuel, for all his regret, isn’t a completely changed man. He’s not a saint coming out of prison but a person, and one who is selfish when it comes to Abner’s sister, Adele (Holly Hunter). By helping her Manual hopes to make amends for the damage he’s done to her family, but slowly loses the will to tell her who he is. This silence goes on for too long, and knowing how nice he can be doesn’t require Adele to forget what he’s done when it all comes out. There’s no clean slate for anybody (Kirsten Dunst plays a strung out young woman whose mom is a needy musician), but consequences have to be faced anyway. That’s what Manual does in this account of redemption that drops the idolization of the word and brings redemption back down to earth.
Available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment 4/4