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Review: 'Welcome to Pine Hill' blurs lines between fiction, reality

Review: 'Welcome to Pine Hill' blurs lines between fiction, reality
A scene from "Welcome to Pine Hill." (Handout)

A Brooklyn man tries to square a checkered past with a grim future in the intimate and observational "Welcome to Pine Hill." An offshoot of writer-direct-editor Keith Miller's short film "Prince/William," the feature mixes real-life situations and characters with fictionalized narrative threads to create a highly authentic slice-of-life drama.

First-time actor Shannon Harper, who Miller initially met on a New York street in a dispute over a dog (that incident, documented in the short, also opens "Pine Hill"), stars as Shannon, a reformed drug dealer now employed as an insurance claims adjuster. The husky, taciturn Shannon approaches his workaday job and solitary personal life with equal parts wariness and resignation.

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But when Shannon is suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer, he takes stock of his life in his own quietly proactive way: He pays off debts, visits his estranged mother and kicks it with old friends. When he travels upstate to the faded, Catskills resort town of Pine Hill — a spot with veiled meaning to Shannon — it's clear some final life decisions have been made.

While the lumbering Shannon is hardly a charismatic hero, he fully demands our attention. His simmering silences and unstudied anguish — aided by Miller's lingering takes and unvarnished eye — make the ill-fated everyman especially haunting. Viewer patience, however, is required; this one's a slow-moving train.

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'Welcome to Pine Hill'

MPAA Rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood.

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