Confirmation, The (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Confirmation,” written and directed by Bob Nelson, is an astute and beautiful comedy that offers deep thoughts and lasting impressions. It tells the story of an alcoholic carpenter named Walt (Clive Owen) who must find the person who stole his tools over the course of a weekend, with his young son in tow, because there is a job for him the coming Monday. The man is in desperate need of money—and we learn to which extent through the young boy’s perspective—so it is paramount that he finds the person, or persons, responsible.
The plot is simple but the story is a wellspring of humanity. Bearing more than a few similarities with Ken Loach’s films involving real-life social issues, the picture, in a nutshell, is about the often forgotten working people who try to survive in middle America. Although a comedy on the outside, it commands a powerful dramatic core because the material does not shy away from showing poverty and the effects it has on those struck by it.
In just about every place we visit—whether it be a tavern, a house, a workplace—the background is rich with specific, natural details. Because the images look and feel real, not some sort of colorful set where every element is controlled, when comedic punches come around, they are all the more convincing and amusing. In each place visited, there is a person who is usually defined by what surrounds him. The encounters are unique and refreshing and so we look forward to meeting the next stranger and learning a little bit more about him or her. The writer-director takes on a humanist approach which is exciting to encounter in a comedy.
The father-son relationship is particularly moving because we understand their largely unexpressed yearning to want to be with and learn more about one another since they do not live under the same roof. Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the young boy about to undergo his first communion and confirmation but is sometimes unsure whether really is a God, has such an air of melancholy about him that one cannot help but be drawn to what his character is feeling or thinking. It is a performance in which the actor must understand the value of carefully placed pauses and phrasing lines a certain way to create tension and urgency. Lieberher just might be someone to watch out for.
Standout scenes involve Anthony and Walt sharing intimate moments like the conversation about appreciating the things we take for granted by asking who made or built them. I found it surprising and quite neat that the more we learn about the duo, the more they seem to look alike—how they stand, how they walk, how they move. In the beginning of the picture, Walt and his son could not be any more different. By the end, however, one feels very hopeful about how their relationship might evolve throughout the years, well beyond the film’s timeline.
High quality comedies like “The Confirmation” are very hard to come by these days because what passes as comedy now tend to rely too much on caricature. Showing exaggerated characteristics is the easiest way to make someone laugh. It is more of a challenge to dig deeply into what makes someone tick while still entertaining us with funny lines, moments, happenstances.