Every now and then a movie has a way of sneaking up on you. It seems pleasant enough at the start but gets deeper and richer as it goes along. Only when it’s over do you fully realize how satisfying it has been. That’s the best way I can describe, and recommend, The Confirmation, which marks the directing debut of Bob Nelson, the Oscar-nominated writer of Nebraska.
This is another small-town saga that takes an empathetic, clear-eyed look at working-class people. Clive Owen stars as a luckless finish-carpenter who’s trying to kick a drinking habit and clear the air with his ex-wife (now remarried) and young son (Jaden Lieberher, who’s as good here as he is inMidnight Special). He’s scheduled to spend the weekend with his boy, and it starts out on a promising note as he’s hired for a job beginning Monday. Then he discovers that someone has stolen his tools.
This leads to a series of adventures and encounters that test the son’s strength of character, as he is about to take his first communion and be confirmed at church.
Contrary to every Hollywood movie cliché, the characters in this film don’t act or react in extreme or predictable ways. Owen is a troubled man but has a code of honor and genuinely loves his son. Lieberher is trying to take his new role as churchgoer seriously but has questions that even his priest can’t answer. Every supporting role is filled by a first-rate actor who brings color and nuance to his role, including Maria Bello, Robert Forster, Stephen Tobolowsky, Patton Oswalt, Tim Blake Nelson, and Matthew Modine.
Funny, sad, ironic, poignant: many films strive for these results but The Confirmation embraces them all, seamlessly and unpretentiously. And if, the morning after, it occurs to you that it resembles The Bicycle Thieves, so much the better: it was one of Bob Nelson’s chief inspirations.
The Confirmation opens in theaters today and is also available on iTunes.