The line between humanism and voyeurism can be very thin indeed. Stevie, a fluid and deeply troubling documentary, is the story of a young man in rural Illinois who would probably be of no interest were he not a complete car wreck of a human being. Blobby and dim-witted, with peeping eyes and a feckless thick-lipped pout, Stevie Fielding grew up abused and abandoned, shuttling between his step-grandmother and a series of foster homes. He emerged as a boozy petty criminal, locked into a maze of combative resentment.
That’s where Steve James, the director of ”Hoop Dreams,” picks him up. In the ’80s, James was Stevie’s Big Brother, and he has returned after more than 10 years to make a film about him. Why? A nexus of reasons. A guilt that James acknowledges, certainly. And also a feeling that he doesn’t acknowledge: Stevie is a fascinating sociopath, a trailer-home wastrel whose stab at redemption is dwarfed, every time, by his destructive and consuming rage. Early on, we learn that he’s been arrested for molesting an 8-year-old girl, and the movie, which sprawls over two years, is framed as a moral drama: Can – and should – the system save a man whose actions are monstrous? And who barely has the inclination to save himself? ”Stevie” is gripping in its intimacy, yet it left me with the disquieting sensation that Steve James’ compassion for Stevie wasn’t the reason he made the film so much as it was the excuse.