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Robert Zuckerman
This movingly understated drama benefits from strong performances and incisive characterizations.

Jono Oliver's indie drama concerns a man recovering from mental illness who attempts to rebuild his life.

Strong performances and a thoughtful approach to the hot-button topic of mental illness are the chief hallmarks of Jono Oliver’s moving, low-key drama about a 33-year-old man attempting to rebuild his life while on the verge of being released from the group home where he’s been receiving treatment. Featuring a powerful leading turn by Gbenga Akkinnagbe (The Wire), Home is the sort of understated but worthy indie film that, like many of its characters, too often falls through the cracks.

The story concerns Jack, who was diagnosed with an unspecified mental illness when he was 19 and has been in and out of trouble ever since. But he now seems poised to re-enter society, having landed a job and an apartment in the desperate hope of reconnecting with his young son.

He’s not entirely encouraged in his aspirations by the institution’s head nurse (KK Moggie) and or hard-nosed administrative doctor (James McDaniel), who seems eager to block him at every turn. And things turn bleak when his work hours are cut and the rent on his apartment is raised before he can even move in.

Jack’s best friend Dundee (Danny Hoch) represents a cautionary tale of sorts. A grocery story delivery man who spends most of his time hawking bootleg DVDs, he encourages Jack to pursue his goals even while displaying signs of the mental illness with which he is similarly afflicted.

Rebuffed by his uncaring father (Joe Morton) and met with clearly well-deserved suspicion by his embittered ex-wife (Tawny Cypress), Jack becomes increasingly desperate. The obstacles he faces are clearly delineated in such scenes as when he attempts to find an apartment in Brooklyn or Manhattan. When he tells a real-estate agent that he can afford all of $550 a month for rent, she immediately dismisses him.

Although a bit too leisurely and featuring a few too many interminable group therapy scenes, the film nonetheless succeeds in packing considerable dramatic impact thanks to its incisive characterizations, realistic dialogue and well-drawn milieu. Besides the strong contributions by the excellent supporting cast, including Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as a fellow patient, Akkinnagbe delivers a beautifully modulated turn that subtly suggests the emotional turmoil underlying his character’s seemingly resolute exterior. Jack has clearly done significant damage both to himself and the people in his life, but it’s impossible not to root for him in his struggle to regain dignity and self-respect.

Opens Nov. 22 (Tribal Blues, Mountaintop Productions)

Cast: Gbenga Akkinnagbe, Danny Hoch, Tawny Cypress, Joe Morton, KK Moggie, James McDaniel  

Director/screenwriter: Jono Oliver

Producers: Daniela Barbosa, Ged Dickersin

Director of photography: Sung Rae Cho

Editor: Ulysses Guidotti

Production designer: Eric Oliver

Costume designer: Pattie Barbosa

Composer: Gingger Shankar

Not rated, 112 minutes