Having banked success as a comedy screenwriter, Ed Solomon (''Men in Black'') eschews all that useless hilarity in his directing debut. Levity, from his own script, is gray, depressive, and intimacy-averse. And so are the lank, shoulder-length hairdo and zombie demeanor affected by Billy Bob Thornton as Manuel Jordan, a man released from prison some two decades after killing a convenience-store clerk in a botched robbery.
Desperate for redemption but convinced he doesn't deserve it (so very ''Monster's Ball Redux''), Manuel returns to the scene of the crime, establishing a relationship with various other hurting souls in the area, among them Holly Hunter as his victim's sad sister, Morgan Freeman as a tormented preacher, and Kirsten Dunst as a self-destructive club kid. One could, I suppose, read mysteries of atonement into this stern tale. But for what sin? Surely not for cowriting ''Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.''