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Originally published January 7, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Page modified January 7, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Strongman': A blue-collar hero who dwells in the gap between dreams and reality

"Strongman," directed by Zachary Levy, pays loving tribute to Stanley "Stanless Steel" Pleskun.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Strongman,' a documentary directed by Zachary Levy. 111 minutes. Not rated; contains language. Northwest Film Forum.

Stanley Pleskun — aka "Stanless Steel," strongman extraordinaire — will never make a fortune bending pennies, even though he's the only man on Earth who can perform such a feat. He'll never win Olympic gold for weightlifting, even though he can raise a 10,000-pound truck with his legs and lift 250-pound weights with a single finger. He'll never be a role model, even when kids ask for his autograph after he bends horseshoes at birthday parties in suburban New Jersey.

No, "Stanless Steel" is a gloriously flawed muscle man who drinks, smokes, gathers scrap metal for his day job, and will probably never amount to much in the grand scheme of things. And yet that's why filmmaker Zachary Levy loves him, and by extension Stan's supportive girlfriend Barbara, a former model whose beauty has mostly faded.

Here you have two struggling lovers torn by elusive dreams of success. They'd be labeled "losers" by most of society, but Levy clearly thinks otherwise, so he spent nearly a decade making the documentary "Strongman," financing the project by creating and selling a popular set of playing cards illustrated with the "Most Wanted" members of the Bush administration.

The result is an extraordinarily intimate portrait of "Stanless Steel" as a thick-skulled artist of sorts, frustrated by the gap between his dreams and his fairly bleak reality. "Strongman" takes a melancholy turn when Barbara grows weary of Stan, but Levy never passes judgment with his camera, and "Strongman" honors "Stanless Steel" as a blue-collar hero, desperately maintaining the identity that his bruised ego requires.

Without being intrusive, Levy chronicles these lives like a trusted family member, and "Strongman" allows a privileged and affectionate glimpse of a truly American dreamer. You can't help but root for Stan, even if he doesn't always deserve it.

Jeff Shannon:

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