January 12, 2004 -- “Stevie” is a heartbreaking documentary about a ruined life. Filmmaker Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) goes back to look at the life of Stephen Fielding, a troubled young man he left behind 10 years ago when he graduated from college. He finds that Stephen's life has gone from bad to worse. Before and after Stephen is hauled off to prison, Stephen, the filmmaker and others who know him are left to wonder if anything could have been done to change the tragic course of Stephen's life.
Steve James was the "big brother" to Stevie Fielding. Beaten and sexually abused as a child, Fielding roamed from one foster home to another, ending up in a mental institution for a time. Later, trying to get along in society, he has numerous run-ins with the law. Interviews with Fielding reveal a deep rage against his mother and others who have hurt him in his life. Yet he tries to reconcile with his mother and tries to straighten out his life. Despite these efforts, he can't seem to stay out of trouble, especially when he gets drunk and smokes pot. One scene at a party graphically shows how belligerent Fielding can become when he gets drunk. Despite the terrible crimes Stevie has committed, there is something disarming about him, a childlike quality.
Fielding's self-destructive behavior and his futile attempts at happiness are very ill-fated. The filmmaker, Steve James, is a key part of the movie and appears in many scenes. He clearly feels guilty about having left Stevie behind. Could he have made the difference? It is hard to tell. Fielding does go to church, is baptized, and has a girlfriend who seems to love him, but it is hard to tell what's going on beneath his placid exterior. Fielding seems to be doomed to a life of ruin, despite these efforts.
In many ways, the film shows the shortcomings of society's attempts to protect children at risk and to deal with mental illnesses. Child abuse is a root cause of many criminal behaviors and that seems to hold true for Fielding. It is also hard to tell who to believe in the film as everyone seems to have a different version of the truth. Fielding's mother, grandmother, other relatives and his former foster parents all have strikingly different views of him. Fielding's grandmother raised him after his mother found him too much to handle. While Fielding's first foster parents have fond memories of him and he of them, his later experiences with foster parents left him with emotional scars.
Fielding is not as simple as he first seems and is quite capable of lying to save himself. He also seems surprisingly adept at dealing with the law. One of the more interesting scenes has Fielding talking to a member of a neo-Nazi group called the Aryan Nations, who claims to have connections with the Aryan brotherhood inside prison. The man claims he can arrange for the brotherhood to protect Fielding from other prisoners after he is sentenced. Steve James, as he did in “Hoop Dreams,” gets amazing access to this entire extended family and friends to create a very moving film. Rates a B.
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