Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Confirmation

Bob Nelson's The Confirmation is bookended by two confessions by eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher). In the first, he strains to come up with something worthy of penance eight weeks after his last confession. By the next afternoon, he has a roll call of sins to confess after spending an eventful day with his father, Walt (Clive Owen), filled with lying and stealing. We're meant to understand that it isn't through the religious ceremony of the title, but through those sins—or, more precisely, through learning that committing such “sins” is sometimes the right thing to do—that Anthony makes his first meaningful step toward manhood. That's an interesting premise for a coming-of-age story, but it's undermined by the film's occasionally dubious ethics and its tendency to soft-pedal the dangerous situations it sets up.

Walt is a very good father, loving, even-tempered, and full of advice and life lessons. He's also a seriously underemployed alcoholic who endangers his son by taking him on a tour of dicey locations and violent showdowns involving a meth addict, a pawnbroker, a sociopathic teenager, and more, in a desperate search for the carpentry tools that were stolen from the bed of Walt's pickup at the start of their day together. There are presumably pretty places to be found in this location, where mountains are occasionally visible in the background (license plates make it clear that the film is set in Washington state), but the dirt-pocked lawns, modest houses, and scrubby streets where most of the action takes place are shot with a resolute realism.

Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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