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Confirmation, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Decent folks looking for tools."
3 stars

The title of "The Confirmation" doesn't do it a lot of favors, unless the misadventures that is characters go through parallel that particular Catholic ritual in ways that aren't particularly obvious to those of us who don't share their faith. Heck, it implies enough religious material to trigger bad associations with more genuinely faith-based films rather than one that puts that material on the edges of a fairly entertaining, if occasionally worried, father-son piece.

First communion and confirmation is coming up for Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), although he seems to be in pretty good shape, frustrating Father Lyons (Stephen Tobolowsky) with his lack of sins to confess. Mother Bonnie (Maria Bello) isn't quite as settled, going on an overnight retreat with Anthony's stepfather to work out some issues, leaving Anthony in the hands of Walt (Clive Owen), the boy's father, an alcoholic, chronically-unemployed carpenter. He does have a job coming up, at least until his specialized tools are stolen from the back of his truck. That means the pair are going to have to spend much of the weekend hunting them down, hoping that the various rogues that occupy the local carpentry community are more eccentric than dangerous.

Filmmaker Bob Nelson is making his directorial debut here, although the material isn't necessarily that far off from the work he's likely best-known for; shift the father-son relationship up a generation and make the quest a bit more quixotic, and you've got the bones of Nebraska. This particular sorry may take place in the Pacific Northwest rather than the Heartland, but it's still at home in a small town that has seen better times. Nelson uses that skeleton to a similar end, giving Anthony the chance to discover where he comes from, although having Walt be an active participant rather than just the catalyst is a big boost - he may not consciously be trying to discover or remake himself, but he's certainly on a path regardless.

That path often seems to be between a fairly simple sweetness and occasional pessimism, and the general tendency of the film itself to lean toward the former can sometimes be is greatest weakness. There are few people in it that are even superficially bad, to the extent that situations occasionally deflate because the desire to be helpful seems fairly universal. It can often lead to a muted atmosphere, especially when you consider that the complementary scenes are often sad in a similarly quiet way - the scene where we see Anthony, left in the truck while Walt goes into a bar, looks at the pickup a few spaces away and sees another kid in the same situation has a sad song rather than a sharp one. There's a similar sadness to the people Walt and Anthony deal with - nobody is far enough above water to be a genuine villain; most just want to work.

There's work for character actors, at least. Passion Oswalt is the one that outright steals most of the scenes he's in as the guy who supposedly has the best line on who is both skilled and dishonest enough to recognize Walt's tips as valuable; he's energetic and able to bounce scenes in new directions like few other people in the film. Robert Forster is a comforting presence as one of Walt's closest friends, while Tim Blake Nelsongives a fellow carpenter some rougher edges. It's kind of a relief to see Maria Bello playing Bonnie as the parent who really should have custody even if you really like Walt, and Matthew Modine hits a nice target by making Walt's disgust with Bonnie's new husband both natural and overblown.

Jaeden Lieberher and Clive Owen are the constants, though, and do a nice job of giving the film a strong foundation. Lieberher starts out playing the guileless movie kid and doing it well, but adds in the results of these new experiences well without making Anthony jaded. Owen, meanwhile, does a very nice job navigating Walt's better and lesser impulses: He's constantly raising eyebrows and turning up the corners of his mouth at what a smart, decent kid Anthony is, with just the right amount of disappointment and recognizing that he's not one to talk when the boy messes up. He also makes alcoholism look like something that really hurts.

Nelson stumbles at points, not quite able to make some of what he's trying to do work, and the viewer notices. The good news is that by giving Walt and Anthony a bunch of smaller encounters with each other and the rest of the cast, he is generally able to put the ones that fail behind him and come up with others that are very funny or quite sweet without being too sugary, including a button on the end that certainly suggests he knew where he wanted to go all along.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=30364&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/21/16 09:32:16
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USA
  18-Mar-2016 (PG-13)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Mar-2016


Directed by
  Bob Nelson

Written by
  Bob Nelson

Cast
  Clive Owen
  Jaeden Lieberher
  Maria Bello
  Patton Oswalt
  Tim Blake Nelson



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