Among the Sex Offenders: Difficult and engaging because of the lack of answers
For the previous two films in the LA Stories series I have felt they were limited by a lack of agenda or answers, and that Theroux's laid back observational style maybe stopped them being better films. In this case though it works very well because he simply lets the situation speak for itself. He joins a small group of sex offenders living in an industrial area of California (Torrence) and from there he explores the world where restrictions on their living position, interactions and places they go continue to follow them after they leave jail.
The film walks a fine line and I guess if you are on either extreme of the situation then it will appear to mostly back you up – which I guess is a credit to the film. On one hand the film allows you to see that these are people who clearly have issues and often are targeting more vulnerable people and may or may not be able to help themselves., and anyway, the parole doesn't last forever. However, on the other side it is pretty clear that the punishment far extends beyond the jail cell and parole, with restrictions that may have much longer lasting impact on their lives – or rather their ability to build some sort of life.
Of course the film also lets you understand that other lives are just as equally impacted, and it is this clash between wanting to give people a second chance and also knowing how terrible what they did, that makes the film work. There are lots of questions – some of them posed by the film but mostly posed by myself. Why did I share the concern of others for these people when I know the same community would not be up in arms in a murderer lived in their midst? These things came and went and it made for a better film; particularly effective is when you can see others struggling with them – for example the parole officer struggling to balance positive things with the fact that she would not trust the woman with her teenage son, always coming to the same conclusion even when it sounds odd to get there.
In this way it is an effective film and Theroux doesn't ham it up or overplay; yes it is his usual stuff but it works well here. Although the subject of sexual crime will give it headlines, this film fits well with the many other difficult films he has done that looks at crime, punishment and the illusion of rehabilitation.
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