You always have to take a supposed, big-screen “true story” with a grain of salt. Liberties have been taken with all of them, whether the film in question is a documentary feature or a narrative feature, such as the fact-based, crime-drama Jamesy Boy.

And make no mistake about it, there are moments in this modestly budgeted “indie” that definitely don’t ring true, as if they’ve been added in to make the story more uplifting, more conveniently tidy and more acceptable for mass consumption.

Yet there are times when the film works in spite of those credibility straining elements. A strong supporting cast made up of name actors and a pretty compelling leading turn by a relative newcomer, Spencer Lofranco, certainly help in that regards. Lofranco, in particular, is convincing and manages to impress, even when the material requires us to believe that the twenty-something actor is in his early teens.

The film examines the life of one James “Jamesy Boy” Burns, a Denver teen who fell in with the wrong people. According to this version of events, a spotty past track record kept him from entering the Denver public school system, and, as a result, he became the trusted associated of a local, mid-level gangster and drug runner, Roc (Michael Trotter, seen most recently in Showtime’s Ray Donovan).

Ignoring the pleas of his somewhat delinquent but still loving mother, Tracy (Mary-Louise Parker), James’ lawless behavior eventually culminates with a crime spree that lands him behind bars, in a maximum-security prison. There, he runs afoul of both the guards (among them, James Woods) and the behind-bars gang leaders.

And after a brawl gets him into further trouble, James’ last, best chance to turn his life around comes when he’s thrown into solitary confinement, in a cell next to a hardened killer, Conrad (Ving Rhames). The older inmate has no sympathy for the teen’s whining and instead encourages him to start doing something constructive with his life, such as honing his writing skills.

In his feature-filmmaking debut, co-screenwriter/director Trevor White can’t resist using some genre clichés (including some slo-mo photography and music-video elements that do nothing to further the story). But he’s smart enough to get out of the way of his cast, which does a lot more with this material than it probably deserves.

Again, Lofranco has real presence, and he’s more than able to hold his own against his more experienced cast mates. The scenes featuring blunt heart-to-hearts between his character and Rhames’ are among the film’s best, as are some sweetly romantic sequences pairing Lofranco with Taissa Farmiga (FX’s American Horror Story).

In the long run, this isn’t the most memorable redemption tale. But in a season filled with studio cast-offs, it’s at least watchable, which might be its best asset.

Jeff Michael Vice can also be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (, and can be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (