Home Page > Movies Index (w/mixed oldies) > > Movie Review

This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Felon Sprung, Preacher Parted, Druggie Drafted

Levity on IMDb

Plot Overview


clipboardgroceriesvegetablesceleryharlotschool cafeteriaRemorseful lifer Manuel Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton) when suddenly paroled returns to the scene of the crime, per step 3 in his book-learned plan of redemption. He needs to make amends—though, to be sure, he can hardly bring back the dead. He does, how­ever, make him­self anonymously useful to the deceased's sister/single mom Adele Easley (Holly Hunter) and takes on a missing man's role advising her rebellious, teenage son Abner (Geoffrey Wigdor.) Further­more, he attaches him­self to a “community house” where he prepares an indigent break­fast in the a.m., monitors hyped-up adolescents after school, and tends a parking lot for the adjacent disco four nights a week. As forgiveness involves an honest admission, we can't expect Adele to keep him around after she inevitably finds out who he is, nor to even tolerate him in her city. Step four involves God and he's an atheist, so he'll just take off for parts unknown, his only content­ment having been a thing of the past when he was resigned to his just punishment.

Bible Jimpreacher's talkhorn playingThe community house's self-medicated preacher Miles Evans (Morgan Freeman) runs a tight ship: The deal is to sit and listen to his talk for fifteen minutes in exchange for parking in his lot, no seconds until every­one has had firsts, and pay for any vandalism they've done to the neighbor­hood. He doesn't hold to redeeming the past; what's done is done, get on with it. Seems he has his own past that a couple of G–men are interested in; he bolts to some planned retreat under a new identity when they start sniffing around. His future is out there some­where but no present here or past anywhere.

With those two gone it falls to privileged kid, refugee from suburbia, Sofia Mellinger (Kirsten Dunst) who's been sleeping on the community house couch to take over the compassionate ministry. She's been a wastrel up until now, and her future nothing she's ever given a thought to, but the previous two staffers tell her she'll figure it out. Indeed, she can cook some mean tattitas for break­fast and spout off-color jokes with the rest of them. For parking she charges $15 and has local muscle to back her up. She'll do okay in her present position regardless of having no past experience or future expectations.

Production Values

Writer/director Ed Solomon says in commentary that this his labor of love is a stand-alone drama unlike any­thing else Holly­wood offers. In it we briefly meet interesting characters but their paths don't follow familiar trajec­tories. Maybe so, but a later foreign film “I Belonged to You” (2016) does bear some resemblance. The latter contains three developing romances that end up, one each, in past, present and future. The former also contains a lot of philoso­phizing with no resolution.


The corresponding Bible passage is, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” Of course, the “poor and a wise child” would be youthful Sofia who figures things out on the fly, and “an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” is (“Who died and made you Pope?”) preacher Miles who rationalizes his dope smoking. Miles has his own prison history before this present gig, and Sofia was cozy in suburbia before she and her mom got evicted. That's all well and good, these interesting Bible characters, but we're told little about them nor do they mesh with other scriptures. To under­stand their implications, we have to step back and look at our Bible from the outside in.

Starting with the rating R for language, the movie opens with (“Congratulations”) the formal language of a parole board hearing (“You're a free man”) and proceeds to a newly released convict traversing a court­house hall­way where some­one bumps into him (“Sorry”) introducing conversational politeness. Out on the street he bumps into Mackie Whit­taker (Dorian Harewood) whom he knew from inside whose crude, prison speech is laced with the F-word. Then we meet the preacher whose own speech is laced with the word sh!t, most unbecoming to a man of the cloth, but it betrays his prison history.

A few scenes later Manuel follows his victim's sister to the open air market where he politely offers to help her carry her heavy bags, but since she doesn't know him, she demurs saying, “I think it's best that maybe not. Thank you anyway.” The next scene presents the preacher quoting sacred scripture, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” The next one has the girl chiding the package-laden gentleman: “I need you to speak more formally.” ¶“Pardon.” ¶“I'm joking.” Once they are on conversational terms they need not speak formally. How­ever, from the pulpit a more formal—sacred—rendering is expected. The crude prison expressions are verboten in both cases.

old men playing chessTo borrow a show business illustration, from Christopher Morley, “Shad who was a quite remarkable performer at checkers, consoled him­self by remarking that he was still ‘playing on the boards,’ and that business was lousy. This strong old epithet, unpardon­able else­where, is justified in theatrical tradition, for Shakespeare used it.” (53) Since the King James Version (KJV) presents a familiar, sacred dialect, it's okay to employ it in church circles, which would seem too uppity else­where. Modernizing Bibles to conform to ordinary conversational English is not only unnecessary but shocking to the refined ear as would be introducing crude, prison speech into regular conversation. As George P. Marsh put it in an 1859 post­graduate lecture on the English Bible:

the English Bible sustains, and always has sustained to the general English tongue, the position of a treatise upon a special know­ledge requiring, like any branch of science, a special nomen­clature and phrase­ology. The language of the law, for example, in both vocabu­lary and structure, differs widely from that of unpro­fes­sional life; the language of medicine, of meta­physics, of astronomy, of chemistry, of mechanical art, all these have their approp­riate idioms, very diverse from the speech which is the common heri­tage of all. Why, then, should theology, the highest of know­ledges, alone be required to file her tongue to the vulgar utterance, when every other human interest has its own approp­riate expression, which no man thinks of conforming to a standard that, because it is too common, can hardly be other than unclean? (448–9)

Webster defines “temperance n 1: moderation in action, thought, or feeling: RESTRAINT. 2: habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; specif: moderation in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink.” As a Christian ethic temperance1 is expressed as having (1Cor. 9:24-25) “run in a race … So … that ye may [win]. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.”

In literature the principle of restraint in virtue is contemplated by St. John of Kronstadt: (552)

    Be moderate in all religious works, for moderation, even in virtue, correspondingly to your powers, according to circumstances of time, place, and previous labour, is prudent and wise.  It is well, for instance, to pray with a pure heart, but as soon as there is no correspondence between the prayer and your powers (energy), with the various circumstances of place and time, with your preceding labours, then it ceases to be a virtue.  There­fore the apostle Peter says, (2Peter 1:5) “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;” (that is, do not be carried away by the heart only); (2Pet. 1:6) “And to knowledge temperance.”

There's a disturbing trend in modern Bible translations to substitute the term self-control for temperance as if only in potential vices one need be moderate. Webster defines, “self-control : restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires.” Let's see how this plays out in “Levity.”

saplingsTemperance1 as “moderation in feeling” is expressed in a mere fifteen minutes requirement of exposure to the preaching (“Don't have to listen; don't have to give a sh!t; just have to sit.”) The feeling aspect is reinforced by the juveniles—city kids every one—not liking the woods, choosing instead the community house for their naughty corner. This corresponds to self-control as restraint over one's emotions or desires. Okay.

Temperance1 as “moderation in thought,” or lack thereof, is expressed when Manuel over-thought a robbery and pulled the trigger to break the spell. This corresponds to self-control as restraint over one's impulses. So far so good.

Temperance1 as “moderation in action” is manifested by the boys playing basket­ball half-court where real estate was at a premium. There is no corresponding action category for self-control. Bummer. That substitution pulls the rug out from under being “temperate in all things.”

Temperance2 as “abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink” could be used to discuss the new liquor store going up, which they didn't need.

good shepherdWhen the language was younger, temperance meant only temperance1. With Prohibition came temperance2, much discussed until its usage supplanted the first in usual speech. Bible translators to stick with the familiar no longer translated it as temperance but as self-control. But self-control embodies self-determination, which is limited on account of the Lord being our shepherd moving us around as in this movie. The prisoner was considered foolish by the parole board to think that he decided for himself where he was to stay. The foolish, dominant king of (modern) translations is bettered by the poor but reliable KJV whose words have declined in usage over time as when the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. One does better to learn its old vocabulary than to rely on foolish updates.

Production Values

” (2003) was written and directed by Ed Solomon. It stars Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst. Also starring are Dorian Harewood as Mackie Whittaker, Geoffrey Wigdor as Abner Easley, Luke Robertson as Young Abner Easley, Billoah Greene as Don, Manuel Aranguiz as Señor Aguilar and Catherine Colvey as Claire Mellinger, all in top form. Billy Bob delivers a smooth though tepid performance. Kirsten Dunst's character gets wound up for who knows what. Holly Hunter is like a fish that got away.

MPAA rated it R for language. The action takes place in a metropolis in the throes of winter, perhaps in New Jersey the Garden State. Runtime is 1 hour 40 minutes.

Review Conclusion w/a Christian's Recommendation

This is an interesting story that doesn't seem to go anywhere, but it holds some insight regarding language if one knows where to look. The characters are interesting but unmemorable. The film's sermons are a study in brevity.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall movie rating: Three and a half stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise noted, scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, print.

Marsh, George P. “Formation of our English sacred dialect.”
       Lectures on the English Language. London: John Murray, 1863. Print.
       ——available to read or download at www.bibles.n7nz.org.

Morley, Christopher. Human Being. Copyright 1932, by Christopher Morley. Garden City, NY: Double­day, Doran & Co., Inc., 1932. Print.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch. My Life in Christ. or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and Peace in God: Extracts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt (Arch­priest John Iliytch Sergieff). Trans­lated with the author's sanction, from the Fourth and Supplemental Edition by E.E. Goulaeff. St. Peters­burg. Jordans­ville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2000. Print.

Webster's Ninth New College Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts, Merriam-Webster, 1983. Print.