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By Pete Vonder Haar | January 28, 2006

The Steel Belt still isn’t a very invigorating place to live, if Brian Jun’s “Steel City” is to be believed. This counts double for working class types like P.J. (Tom Guiry) and his older brother Ben (Clayne Crawford), who – along with their own personal job and romance-related travails – are forced to contend with the fact that their father Carl (John Heard) is facing trial for vehicular manslaughter.

P.J. is in a somewhat worse situation than his big brother, however. He’s also facing eviction, and he jut got fired from his busboy job. At least he sort of has a girlfriend (Amy, played by “Real Women Have Curves” star America Ferrera), but money issues are forcing him to distance himself from her as well. P.J.’s mom is no help, being busy with a new marriage and a new baby. Her husband, a cop, offers to sponsor P.J. for the academy, but the young

Relief comes in the form of Uncle Vic, who comes to P.J.’s aid at the behest of his brother. Vic is a no-nonsense type who finds his nephew a job and gives him a place to crash. But Carl’s impending trial, P.J.’s uncertain status with Amy, and Ben’s refusal to involve himself in his brother’s life prevent the lad’s mood from improving much.

More than anything else, “Steel City” is a movie about men and the way they interact. Jun does a good job introducing some complexity to a subject that is rarely used as a theme in movies. Each character has their own strengths and flaws, and the nuance is appreciated, considering how lacking layered depictions of working class men are. Where he could have improved things is in his direction. Many of the scenes could stand to be tightened up, and Jun is too fond of folksy music playing over shots of characters driving down a lonely road.

The movie’s strength is in the performances, however. And they’re enough to make “Steel City” worth a look.

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