Eight year old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) is somewhat uneasy about spending the weekend with his alcoholic, down-on-his-luck carpenter dad Walt (Clive Owen) while his mom Bonnie (Maria Bello) and her new husband Kyle (Matthew Modine) go to a Catholic retreat together. Their first day together is a series of characteristically unfortunate events, including his truck breaking down, his unpaid landlord locking him out of the house, and the theft of his special toolbox, which he needs for an upcoming job. As Walt and Anthony set about finding the guy who stole the tools and improvise around their other misfortunes, they begin to discover a true connection with each other.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It was the same Bob Nelson who wrote the screenplay (in 2003) for the 2013 hit Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne and Starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. It was the story of an aging, booze-addled father making the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son, and gradually bonding. Jump to 2016 and here is Nelson's debut feature, The Confirmation, about a booze-addled father spending time and bonding with his young son.
In a screenplay that might be subtitled 'Life's a Bitch', Nelson strings together a series of misfortunes to inflict on Walt (Clive Owen), who starts behind the eight ball anyway. Divorced as drunk and disorderly, Walt is broke and jobless when his precious tools are stolen from his truck. Which breaks down. This testing time comes on the day he is taking care of his 8 year old son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), while mom Bonnie (Maria Bello) and her new husband Kyle (Matthew Modine) go to a Catholic retreat for the weekend.
The story is designed to throw father and son into a testing situation, so that as they try to extradite themselves from trouble, they slip further into it. In the process they realize how much they have in common - or at least how well they get along. The carpenter who makes things and the son who admires that, recognizing the good things in his father that the booze blocked out.
The film begins with Anthony at confession, with no sins to confess. By the end of his outing with his (agnostic) dad, he has plenty to confess, having lied and manipulated and stolen ... Of course, we forgive him all these transgressions (and no doubt his god does, too) because he does all that for his father's benefit - or otherwise in the greater good. In other words we reflect through life experience that the grey areas of our morality tend to zoom to the front in life.
It's amusing and endearing but rather flat dramatically, with the realism blunted and the danger downplayed. In other words, the film fails to fulfill its potential.
Review by Louise Keller:
A little gem of a film from Bob Nelson, the writer of the acclaimed film Nebraska (2013), The Confirmation is a charming two hander in which a single dad and his young son bond during the weekend from hell. The screenplay is economical with beautifully drawn characters, and events that unravel as naturally as a ball of wool in the paws of a playful kitten. The beauty of the film lies in the central performances and nuances as the relationship between father and son solidifies and the balance of responsibility wavers.
Keep him out of trouble, says Bonnie (Maria Bello) to her ex-husband Walt (Clive Owen), when he arrives to collect their son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) for the weekend. And trouble with a capital T is what he gets into, in a non-stop rollercoaster involving lies, guns, police, eviction and theft. The contrast between the bright youngster who cannot even come up with one transgression to appease the local priest at confession and his alcoholic, out of work father is clearly apparent from the outset, and it takes a while for the communication between the two to settle into a comfortable rhythm. It all begins when Walt’s box of specialist carpentry tools are stolen from the back of his pick-up truck, prompting a course of action that becomes the superglue between them.
Clive Owen has a great presence as the down on his luck father with the beat-up car and reliance on alcohol; he is beautifully countered by Jaeden Lieberher as the boy with straight As who uncharacteristically accumulates a string of transgressions that would astonish any priest. There is subtlety in all the performances; the scene when Maria Bello watches the interaction between Walt and Anthony through the window says much with no dialogue whatsoever. Humour and pathos are seamlessly interwoven and the film’s sweet heart reveals itself as all the story strands come together. Thoroughly enjoyable.
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CONFIRMATION, THE (PG)
CAST: Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Spencer Drever, Michael Eklund, Ryan Robbins, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Forster, Matthew Modine
PRODUCER: Bob Nelson, Todd Hoffman
DIRECTOR: Bob Nelson
SCRIPT: Bob Nelson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Terry Stacey
EDITOR: Steven Rasch
MUSIC: Jeff Cardoni
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris August
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 15, 2016