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Baltimore Son: Matthew Porterfield’s “Putty Hill”

Baltimore Son: Matthew Porterfield’s "Putty Hill"

The first time a character utters the word “Baltimore” in Matthew Porterfield’s Putty Hill, it is as an explanation, or rather an excuse, for why a 24-year-old named Cory died of a heroin overdose. “Fucking shit nowadays is killing so many people,” says Cory’s uncle, Spike (Charles Sauers), an ex-con tattoo artist, while methodically inking up a client’s arm. “Baltimore,” sympathizes the client, obviously also a neighborhood acquaintance. Co-writer/director Matthew Porterfield’s second feature (his first was 2006’s Hamilton), a quietly searing portrait of grief and disaffection on the destitute outskirts of that Maryland city, goes on to present a series of discrete slices of life—with these scenes neatly arranged one after another, as if according to some genealogical principle rather than a dramatic one, to show death’s ripple effect through a complex system of friends and relatives—that also cumulatively add up to a portrait of the titular neighborhood. While Putty Hill—which reportedly came together after funding for another project involving much of the same personnel fell through, and underwent a reshoot of a crucial scene late last year on account of a music-rights snafu—is intriguingly structured and shot (by Jeremy Saulnier) in a hypnotically serene overcast palette, its content stubbornly refuses to dovetail with its tone and form. Read Benjamin Mercer’s review of Putty Hill.

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