“I don’t know what kind of trouble he can get into in a day.”
At first glance, those words — spoken by a father in the midst of a particularly eventful weekend with his estranged son — sound like a filmmaker giving himself permission to put his characters in the most outrageous situations possible. But The Confirmation actually shines by keeping things simple. The movie is a low-key, thoroughly affecting story of a father and son forging an unexpected connection.
“I don’t see my dad enough to dishonor him.”
At the start of The Confirmation, 8-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) enters a confessional but struggles to think of any sins he recently committed. Anthony’s parents are divorced, and his mother Bonnie (Maria Bello) has remarried. As a result, Anthony is set to get both his First Communion and Confirmation within a week’s time. But first, he is due to spend a weekend with his father Walt (Clive Owen). Bonnie implores Walt to make sure that Anthony stays spiritually clean before his upcoming sacraments. But even before Anthony climbs into Walt’s rickety truck, it’s clear the boy will have plenty of fodder next time he goes into the confessional.
Walt is a recovering alcoholic and a down-on-his-luck carpenter who gets his tools stolen while making a pit stop at a bar, where he was pursuing a lead on an upcoming job. The job is set to start in a few days, so Walt is determined to track down his special set of tools. (There’s also the fact that he can’t really afford to buy adequate replacements.)
To be honest, that’s pretty much as far as The Confirmation goes in terms of plot. Walt and Anthony go from one mishap to another — Walt gets locked out of his house and almost crashes his ex-wife’s car — as they search for the missing tools. Meanwhile, Anthony commits a list of sins that range from relatively harmless (lying to his dad about a hidden bottle of Jim Beam) to potentially catastrophic (pointing a gun at a bully).
The movie is written and directed by Bob Nelson, who picked up an Oscar nomination for his Nebraska script. The Confirmation can absolutely be viewed as an unofficial prequel to Nebraska, another movie about an emotionally wounded son discovering a connection with his wayward father. While it doesn’t have the biting humor or gritty grandeur of Nebraska, this movie does feel more personal; The Confirmation is set in Kent, Washington, which is Nelson’s hometown.
The search for Walt’s missing tools becomes a mini-odyssey that stops just shy of becoming absurd. The film stays grounded thanks to a pair of strong lead performances by Owen and Lieberher, who resist the urge to overplay the growing bond between father and son. Even the more potentially showboat-y moments (like when Walt goes into alcohol-related withdrawal) occur off-screen. Owen does subtle things, including walking with the hunched posture of a man who regularly does back-breaking work, that help sell the character. Meanwhile, Lieberher is more than able to match his vastly more experienced co-star.
The Confirmation boasts a talented supporting cast playing bit roles. The standout (in a bad way) is Patton Oswalt as Drake, a weirdo who’s *way* too eager to help Walt and Anthony on their mission. Oswalt is actually fine, but the character comes off as too jarring compared to the other understated personalities. Robert Forster pops up a couple of times as a warm-hearted supporter of Walt’s. And in limited screen time, Bello gets across the notion that Bonnie is less a shrew and more a protective lioness of a mom. I also enjoyed Matthew Modine’s brief turn as Bonnie’s chipper, clueless new husband.
The Confirmation is Nelson’s directorial debut, and the filmmaker has an impressive eye and ear for capturing the awkward moments between people who aren’t as close as they should be. I was also impressed by Nelson’s depiction of faith here. Anthony’s good-heartedness rubs off on his dad at the same time that Walt encourages his son to be exceedingly thoughtful and not blindly accept things at face value. (It’s probably not a coincidence that Walt is a carpenter by trade, just like a certain key figure in the Bible.)
The Confirmation is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 20 mbps. The movie is set in the state of Washington and was filmed in Vancouver. As a result, the visual presentation mostly features an overcast palette that somewhat dampens the color and contrast here. But despite the chillier/grayish atmosphere, this disc also offers some hints of sunshine and pleasingly warm flesh tones. Those tones play very well with the film’s organic, textured presentation. The fine detail here also helps bring Walt and Anthony’s shabby surroundings to life. (And a few choice closeups help us appreciate fine craftsmanship as much as Walt does.)
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is extremely dialogue-driven, which is no surprise for a low-key drama. That being said, I would’ve liked to have heard a bit more activity throughout the rear speakers since Walt and Anthony spend a good amount of time outdoors during their search for Walt’s tools. The most notable hint of sub activity comes during an early scene inside a bar. To be fair, a bunch of unnecessary noise in the sound field here probably would’ve come off as forced. In the end, this track does its job rather well…it’s just not asked to do a ton.
All of the bonus material is presented in HD.
A Father-Son Story: Inside the Characters of The Confirmation: (10:48) Writer/director Bob Nelson talks about being inspired by his own relationship with his dad, who apparently had his tools stolen pretty regularly. The filmmaker was also influenced by Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 classic The Bicycle Thief, which had a similar father-son plot. There’s also some interesting discussion about casting: although suave English actor Clive Owen might seem like an odd choice to play an out-of-work carpenter in Kent, Washington, Owen’s working class background and professionalism convinced Nelson he was the right man for the job. There’s also plenty of praise for young Jaeden Lieberher’s actorly instincts and restraint.
The Performances of The Confirmation: (8:11) This featurette offers a more conventional overview of the story and shines a spotlight on the work of the well-known actors (Maria Bello, Robert Forster, Matthew Modine, Patton Oswalt, Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Tobolowski) who play small but memorable parts here.
One of the key lessons Walt passes along to Anthony during their weekend together is to take the time to appreciate fine work and craftsmanship that might otherwise get overlooked. He’s referring to the effort that goes into building a bridge, for example, but those words also apply to a movie like The Confirmation.
The film is not showy and easy to pass over, but it has been thoughtfully crafted and is definitely deserving of your attention.