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Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) is a good kid in a hard world. His mother Bonnie (Maria Bello) is happy in her new life with Kyle (Matthew Modine), hoping to put her son on the path of righteousness, even as she heads to a religious marriage counseling retreat. Anthony’s father Walt (Clive Owen) is textbook down-on-his-luck. His truck won’t start, he’s a borderline alcoholic, his tools are stolen, he’s got no money and he’s just been evicted. He’s also impossibly calm, as if the world beating down on him is just the way its supposed to be.
Walt’s not necessarily a bad father, he’s just ill-equipped. Of all the troubles he has, it’s the drinking that strangles him the most. Anthony recognizes this, and the suffering Walt endures over the weekend is decidedly on his son’s hands as he makes every effort possible to keep the booze out of his father’s reach. He does this by lying and cheating and concealing the truth as often as he can, which is a moral dilemma. At the start of the film, Anthony kneels in a confessional to a somewhat disinterested priest (Stephen Tobolowsky) who asks him if he has had impure thoughts or lied to his parents. Anthony doesn’t really understand the meaning or depth of the questions but obliges answers. The practice of religion is a series of rehearsed motions and platitudes. Anthony is learning that the line between honesty for a Father and honesty for a father are two different, difficult matters.
The story centers around recovering Walt’s valuable tools, heirlooms stolen from his pick-up truck. He and his boy explore each other’s boundaries as they encounter a number of eccentric characters who may or may not know who took them. Eccentric is the right word for each of them. First there is Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a born-again Christian who doesn’t quite get the point of that as he beats his kids and arms them with handguns. This leads to Drake (Patton Oswald), a meth-addict who thinks he has the crime solved, but really doesn’t. He is a character you are meant to laugh at when you meet him, but will feel heartbreak for when you leave him. There’s also Otto (Robert Forster), an old friend of Walt’s who is the most stable, and probably the most familiar with Walt’s situation. All of these characters are well-cast and performed, adding some much-needed distractions to the weight of the main story. Bello, in what is essentially a cameo, is also good as a mother and ex-wife trying to keep balance of a situation that has no balance.
Written and Directed by Bob Nelson, The Confirmation is decidedly low-key and works well as a character-driven drama. The relationship between the boy and his father is very convincing but there are other things that are not. Several scenes feel overdone and forced, especially those with Vaughn, his boys and a gun. There is also a moment at a pawn shop that should have gone in any other direction than it does and so also feels false. Even when go back to it again. There is also a persistent ‘indie’ guitar soundtrack that never lets up and never really hits the right tone trying to wedge itself between light comedy and serious drama. It becomes a distraction, so generic it wears thin fast. Why can’t films trust audiences to accept silence?
The Confirmation is about knowing what is right and what is wrong and how our actions define that. It neatly puts religion on one side and non-secular values on the other, never overtly swinging the pendulum to either end. It’s light approach makes for a satisfying experience but conflicts (some very serious) are solved far too easily to make this any more than that. It’s a little disappointing as Owen looks the part and is willing to go the distance but the story reigns him in and keeps it tepid. It ends up feeling a little like a well-produced television drama but that isn’t all bad. Some solid performances and good direction make it worthwhile.
Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello, Patton Oswald, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Forster
Director: Bob Nelson
Writer: Bob Nelson
Stars: Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello