Bob Nelson‘s The Confirmation (Saban, 3.18 limited and on iTunes) hasn’t generated much pre-release heat but it’s an ace-level thing — a quietly rewarding, deftly layered, richly embroidered character drama. Okay, a “family” drama but I’ve always hated that term. I also hate the term “father-son saga” but that’s more or less the shot. But it’s the singer, not the song.
This is a simple, small-town thing (shot in a Vancouver suburb) about the revealing of character and the finding of a stolen tool box. Sounds small and maybe a bit marginal, right? It’s not. It hits fundamental notes.
The set-up is an agreement by Walt (Clive Owen), a divorced dad and recovering alcoholic with an irregular income, to look after his son Anthony (St. Vincent‘s Jaeden Lieberher) for a day while his ex-wife Bonnie (Maria Bello) and her religious-minded husband Kyle (Matthew Modine) are off on a trip of some kind.
The story is driven by Walt’s missing toolbox, which he needs for a job that starts Monday morning. But the film is more about Walt and Anthony’s character and decisions as they make their way around town, moving from lead to lead and incident to incident, all the while accepting the kindly counsel of Walt’s old pal Otto (Robert Forster) and some less-than-reliable assistance from a pair of local tradesmen, Vaughn and Drake (Tim Blake Nelson, Patton Oswalt)
Director-writer Nelson supplies the same kind of subtle weaving of character and small-town detail that he put into his Nebraska screenplay (which won him a Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay), and he gets just-right performances from Owen (best thing he’s done since Closer) and Lieberher along with the supporting ensemble. Everyone delivers.
I’m telling you this is one of the best films of this type that I’ve seen in ages, and I saw it only a couple of days after catching Gavin Hood‘s Eye in the Sky — another early ’16 winner that seemed (from my perspective) to came out of nowhere.
The Confirmation is a little too subdued and modest to be called a homer, but it’s easily a ground-rule double and maybe even a triple. If a film works, it works.
The only problem is the title, which (a) doesn’t mean anything to anyone who hasn’t seen it (the word makes me think of Supreme Court hearings) and (b) doesn’t mean much even if you’ve seen the film. “Confirmation” can allude to religious ritual or training and yes, religion is important to Bello and Modine’s characters and yes, the film has two Catholic confession scenes but it still doesn’t feel right.
Why didn’t The Confirmation play at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival? It’s obviously good enough to have made the cut. And if not Sundance why not Berlin? If you have a good late-winter indie flick you don’t play it low and obscure — you generate all the heat that you can.
I suspected that The Confirmation might have a couple of problems when it didn’t play Park City or Berlin, so I was totally surprised when I finally saw it last night.