Bittersweet and insightful, this beautifully composed directorial debut from Bob Nelson (Writer of Nebraska) is a languid meditation on family, religion and small town life in the American heartland.
Clive Owen plays Walt, an out of work carpenter and recovering alcoholic, who is attempting to stay sober in order to maintain custodial access to his son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher). The film unfolds over one eventful weekend when Walt is left in charge of Anthony while his ex-wife Bonnie (Maria Bello) attends a religious retreat with new husband Kyle (Matthew Modine). The routine father and son bonding experience descends into chaos when Walt’s cherished tool kit is stolen from the back of his truck. The pair subsequently embark on a desperate search to find the thieves and recover the tools so that Walt can accept a much needed job offer.
The performances are uniformly excellent with Owen perfectly capturing the pathos and integrity of a man plagued by demons, but still sharp and resilient enough to overcome adversity. The supporting cast is strong with Modine and Bello on fine form while Patton Osawlt and Tim Blake Nelson engage as quirky small town hoodlums. Lieberher is the stand-out though. Following on from impressive turns in St. Vincent and Midnight Special, he is quickly establishing himself as a contemporary equivalent to Haley Joel Osment. It is essentially his story, the narrative neatly bookended by two inspired trips to the confessional booth, with Stephen Pobolowsky providing a lovely cameo as the priest, Father Lyons. The film focuses on Anthony as he grapples with his damaged father, a broken family unit and being force fed religion. Lieberher nails the role, instilling his character with an effective blend of sensitivity, innocence and poignancy. The final shot of the film is heartbreaking.
Much like his work on Nebraska, Nelson, once again taps into the human condition with an acutely observed script which is blessed with an abundance of warmth and wit. He has a fine knack with dialogue and the film is graced with a number of hugely amusing lines. There’s nothing flashy about his direction and visual approach, but it is nicely shot, perfectly capturing the ebb and flow of a struggling township and it’s down but by no means out characters.
While the narrative is slight, this is still an intelligently crafted examination of the social and economic dilemma of modern America. Finely written, immaculately performed and thoroughly charming, The Confirmation is a lo-fi gem.