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August 7, 2014

Movie review: Painful documentary with a glimmer of hope

You can't watch five minutes of "Rich Hill" without being affected. This is the flip side of the American Dream in the Heartland, and most of us prefer to keep on moving past these train-wreck lives until a light is shined on their circumstances.

This non-judgmental but compassionate documentary is about three poor boys in a small impoverished Missouri town midway between Kansas City and Joplin. Their young lives are as bleak as the fiction of "Winter's Bone," But this is other-side-of-the-tracks real, and it's painful, but sometimes a glimmer of hope shines through.

Heart-breakingly honest, a vivid portrait of 21st Century lives torn apart by lack of opportunity, family dysfunction and related problems emerges without condescension or lectures. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and will be included in the top documentary film lists at year's end.

Filmmakers Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos focused on three young teens: Andrew, a football player whose dad has Branson delusions and his mom has health issues. They have moved 12 times in a dozen years, and they heat bath water with a hot iron when they can't pay the utility bill. Andrew has some gumption. He's personable, bright, athletic. But he despairs about a God that's too busy to listen to him.

Harley, 15, is being raised by his grandma because his mother is in prison. She tried to kill a husband who sexually molested her son. There is anger, and the messed-up kid has little direction. Appachey, 13, is an attention-deficit disorder kid who likes to skateboard and draw, but has a dim view of the world due to the harsh realities of his hardscrabble chain-smoking existence,

They cling to family as a means to get through the day, affected by Midwest unemployment statistics. They follow the routines of a kid's life -- fireworks on Fourth of July, dressing up on Halloween, being at the school football games -- classic flag-waving Norman Rockwell Americana right? Fate is cruel.

Rich Hill, Mo., doesn't look much different than a number of towns we pass on rural roads as we're going somewhere. These folks have nowhere to go.

Spotlighting people whose lives have been marginalized by society is not a new subject, but these filmmakers have lensed a social commentary that needs to be viewed, not discarded.

4 stars out of 4

Directors: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos

Not-Rated: Documentary

Length: 1:31

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