Being Leon Barlow

Arliss Howard, right, with a horse, some guy and Debra Winger beside him...insert your own joke here.

Actor Arliss Howard's debut as a director explodes with brave ambition while falling a little short, perhaps, on traditional narrative sense. So be it. If devotees of the cinematic art were willing to slide down a tunnel into John Malkovich's head a few years back, there's no reason to balk at a few hours inside the fertile, chaotic mind of an impoverished, drunken Mississippi writer named Leon Barlow. There we find the poor bastard's twisted poetic fantasies and occasional bolts of insight, his grieving for a lost wife and a sick child, his hilarious rage over a drawerful of rejection slips, even his war nightmares. It's a tall order, but Howard (who also stars) presses forward without fear--without much sense, some would say. The trip is constantly touching and surprisingly funny. Adapted from a collection of stories by Larry Brown.

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