'Lost Angels'

Kevin "KK" Cohen and Lee Anne Levan in "Lost Angels." (Cinema Libre Studio / December 6, 2012)

"Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home" is an absorbing, at times heartbreaking look at several former and current denizens of downtown L.A.'s Skid Row, a 50-block area that one observer here respectfully calls "an open asylum for the mentally ill." As the documentary's director Thomas Napper makes clear, the neighborhood is that and so much more.

True, it's a community wracked by the forces of gentrification, drug addiction, crime and, some contend, an overly assertive police presence. But the movie, inspired by Napper's experience as second unit director on 2009's Skid Row-set "The Soloist," also frames the locale as a last-chance refuge for an estimated 10,000 financially, physically and emotionally compromised souls; a place of help and, yes, hope, thanks to the vicinity's advocates, missions and other assistance groups.

The "stars" of the film, which is narrated by actress Catherine Keener, include elderly cat lady and hoarder Lee Anne; "K.K," her charismatic protector and so-called "fiancé"; ex-Olympic track star Danny Harris, whose athletic career was waylaid by cocaine; "Bam Bam," a transgender, bipolar New York transplant; and Linda, whose rare congenital skin disorder belies an admirable self-possession.

These folks, who were also extras in "The Soloist," largely discuss their tough pasts and thorny presents with haunting candor, strength and grace — words that also apply to this vivid cinematic portrait.

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"Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. At ArcLight Cinemas, Hollywood.