Director Steve James, once an 'advocate big brother' to a small child named Stevie, returns to his old town of Pomona South Illinois to visit Stevie whom he felt he'd abandoned. Though, he felt he never really connected and was never really able to break through to Stevie's shell of isolation, he returns years later much to Stevie's surprise. Suffice it to say Stevie hasn't grown up with such a great future.
A troubled young boy from the start with such a shattered past with such an extended tragic history (too much to mention) and frequent stays in and out of jail due to countless crimes and misdemeanors, Steve pays a visit to Stevie to catch up on old times; Stevie lives in a small property with his ailing grandmother and sister Bernice who seems on a complete parallel plain with a happy marriage and neat life as Stevie always seems to border on psychotic and sociopathic, but nonetheless she tolerates him and there's a true love between half brother and sister there.
With countless horrible incidents including assault, drug use, being raped in a group home, in and out stays in mental institutions, and being abandoned by his mother, Stevie is a bit erratic but content nonetheless with his current living situation, and at first is a bit cold towards Steve and then begins to open up. Steve leaves much to the sadness of Stevie whom once again feels abandoned despite Steve's promise that he'd visit him again very shortly. Steve declares that he looked for reasons not to visit Stevie again (despite the fact we're not given an explanation why) and he returns two years later to discover Stevie has been jailed once again.
This time Stevie hasn't been arrested for a minor crime, he's molested and nearly raped his eight year old cousin and was turned into the authorities. Though Steve doesn't seem to take a genuine interest until the crime has been committed, Stevie's case and his family's reaction and preparation for his sentencing and upcoming jailing now become the subject for this harrowing and heartbreaking documentary. You're never sure how to feel for Stevie; he's a bit on the fence at times and despite the fact the telltale signs that he's a bit mentally unstable are there, he refuses to get psychiatric therapy and lashes out at his sister whenever she refuses to cut him slack.
Stevie, whom hides behind his usual hunting clothes and has a close relationship with his mentally disabled girlfriend whom, despite their abusive and tormented relationship, sticks by Stevie. Though Stevie seems to want to do the best, at times its hard to distinguish if he does feel anything at all, and that's what Steve James attempts to do. He makes no explanation or excuse for Stevie's horrible behavior but travels with him in a journey to keep him from being jailed, and Stevie denies throughout the entire documentary that he did anything and shows little remorse.
The documentary shows some truly incredible sequences including Steve's confrontation with Stevie's Aryan brotherhood friends who is asking Steve if he wants Stevie to be taken care of in jail by the brotherhood to keep him from being killed. Child molesters can be picked out in jail very easily and brutally murdered and his friend shows no remorse towards Stevie, and almost begs Steve not to ask for the favor telling him that if it was his daughter Stevie molested, he wouldn't even be alive to make it to jail. We can clearly see that Steve is still putting up hope towards Stevie that he is a good person and despite the fact that on the surface Stevie is not a good person, Steve James still holds on to hope and wants to help Stevie and attempts to discover where in fact he lost him, or where the system lost him.
To some in the audience, Steve's journey to help Stevie will seem a bit self-righteous, only as if he's following Stevie for material for his documentary but he really does try to help him and pick apart what ruined him with his constant self-isolation from his peers in school, his outbursts and troubled behavior which led to him being kicked out of his group home and then into an institution, and his willingness to open up to Brenda and Doug Hickman, two people who care for Stevie for a while until they left, and then everything seemed to go downhill for him. He was then raped in his group home, and became a hard shell without remorse or guilt. Deep down Stevie is still a child who's desperate for someone to grab him and make him whole, but there's no way, or no one who knows how.
Stevie loves his sister but their relationship is uneasy, the relationship with his grandmother is uneven, and the relationship with his girlfriend is violent and sometimes lethal despite her parents pleading that she leave him. The only people Stevie really seems to open up and confess to is Brenda and Doug, people whom seem to hold the key to Stevie's soul and they do bring out the human in him. Despite it all, his crime was horrible, and no one has remorse for him because they think they've given him enough chances. This documentary is not about feeling sorry for Stevie, a child molester, nor does it try to make excuses for his crime, it only chronicles a child lost in the system and his friend's heartbreaking and desperate attempt to bring him back before he goes to jail permanently and is lost for good.
While the movie does seem to chronicle Stevie's journey through life, we're never sure what director Steve James' true intentions are. He seems to want to visit Stevie and build a documentary around him, but for what purpose? He seems to manipulate and tailor the people and situations around him to fit the documentary's subject matter.
He never really seems to be genuine about helping Stevie until it's way too late, he even declares in the opener of the film after visiting Stevie that he found reasons not to visit Stevie, but once Stevie is convicted of molestation, it's when he starts hanging around Stevie to show his progress through his case. He never really lends a true hand to help Stevie from being convicted, either.
Most of his intentions seem self-righteous at times and Stevie only seems to tolerate the cameras and questions because he seems desperate to cling onto his big brother to keep him close to him for support as the only weight in his life that keeps him sane. He doesn't really seem to want to make a documentary, and Steve James shamelessly follows Stevie around showing his emotional downslides and breakdowns. In the end we know the documentary is genuine, but we're never sure if Steve James was genuine about his efforts or just hung around Stevie to help his documentary.
Though, on occasion, director Steve James' involvement in the events that
take place seem self-righteous and manipulative, this is nonetheless a
heartbreaking and tragic chronicle into a man whom was lost in the system
as an orphan.