Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

45365 is the zip code of Sydney, Ohio, the hometown and focus of brothers Bill and Turner Ross’s first film together. It’s an absorbing HD documentary that intertwines snippets of various folk’s lives to intriguing and occasionally moving effect.

Without narration, they splice together a pleasing collection of footage drawn from months’ worth of filming. The handheld camera sometimes shakes, the picture is unfocused once in a while, but more often than not their verité technique captures its subjects with something akin to earnest poeticism. These directors know how to frame a picture and not just shoot, often on the hoof, and now and again present a truly stunning image of middle-American suburbia. Valid comparisons have been drawn with images from the likes of Edward Hopper and it’s a style that lifts this above more humdrum documentaries.

Copy picture

The film takes in various events and locations that could well confirm an understanding or suspicion of a typical American town. The fairground, hog-racing, rodeo, local elections, court house, cornfields, 'burbs, barns and all-involving high school football games all feature regularly, almost to a tick-list. But it’s the diverse dwellers from across Sydney’s social strata that hold the attention. We never get to spend long with anyone in particular, just enough time over the 90 minutes to learn of people’s problems or opinions, to feel the pulses.

The convict on probation and struggling with rehab, the judge running for re-election, the cop on the beat for more than a decade, the barn owner’s bat issues, the teenager’s romantic tribulations, the football jocks preparing for the game, the son falling towards petty crime. These and more are carried along by edits from the local news and soundtracked by the almost inadvertently expressive local radio station. It’s quite a melee, but the mix is so deftly handled that it never feels too heady. Rather, the skilful editing and pace just manages to have you wanting to know that little bit more.

Is this a celebration of Sydney, of its people? Perhaps on one level, but it’s only a muted paean as the gauged tempo smoothes some of the harsher realities exposed by the brothers’ editing. When a working-class mother explains that her newly sentenced son never had an education, we then see a bustling high school. The cop laments that he is now arresting kids for the same things that he arrested their parents for ten years ago. The election night results roll in, the football coach is psyching his team up for the big game. More than anything these juxtapositions highlight a pervading sense of disconnect, with elements of Sydney separated, it would seem, by a dollar-shaped divide. Vague chapters titled by each letter from the zip code perhaps hint both at this divorce and the wonderful rambling diversity of a town.

45365 proves visually delightful and, while it may romantically honour the everyday and find beauty in the individual, it savours a dispiriting, melancholic tone for the whole.

Reviewed on: 15 Oct 2009
Share this with others on...
Documentary charting life in a small American town.
Amazon link

Director: Bill Ross, Turner Ross

Year: 2009

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US

Search database: