MOVIE REVIEW: The Confirmation
"THE CONFIRMATION"-- 3 STARS
If we were to play Word Association and you were given the name Clive Owen, what would you say? The lucky astute of us who have followed Clive since 1998's "Croupier" have seen him play brash and gruff villains, antiheroes, and leading men though the likes of "The Bourne Identity," "Closer," "Derailed," "King Arthur," "Shoot 'Em Up," "Inside Man," and, best of all, "Children of Men." As of the new film "The Confirmation," you have very likely never seen him play a domestic father. Now, north of 50 years old, here's Clive Owen in a role that doesn't require, nor utilize, any of the sexy traits that made him a James Bond candidate before Daniel Craig.
Owens plays Walt, a down-on-his-luck and sporadically employed carpenter in a small Washington state town. His pick-up truck barely starts and he's new to kicking the bottle as a recovering alcoholic. He's a good man with demons and principles. Walt is divorced from Bonnie (Maria Bello) and a bit of an absent father to Anthony (Jaeden Leiberher), the preteen son they share. Since their divorce, Bonnie has turned to more devout through Catholic counseling and a new spiritual boyfriend Kyle (Matthew Modine), the complete opposite of Walt.
Anthony buys into the churching and has embraced some of finer points of Catholicism at the urging of Father Lyons (a welcome Stephen Tobolowsky). He's quite the introvert, too smart and too straight arrow for confession, and questions everything. It's Walt's weekend to watch Anthony while Bonnie and Kyle head out of town. Their shared time has Anthony waiting in the truck while Walt goes to the bar.
When Anthony leaves to look for Walt, they return to find Walt's tools stolen from his truck. Walt was in the bar securing a new paying job that starts Monday and needs his expensive and specialized tools to take the work. Even worse, they were his father's tools and a special piece of his personal tradition. That conundrum sends Walt and Anthony bouncing around town looking for the culprit. In shaking the trees and chasing the proverbial goose, they cross paths up and down with townsfolk played by Tim Blake Nelson, Patton Oswalt, and Robert Forster.
The key to "The Confirmation" is the growing quality time being shared by Walt and Anthony. What was tenuous and uneasy at the beginning blossoms into an honest and genial weekend of bonding. Walt begins to assume a better fatherly role while Anthony learns to find a little more of himself. By the end, the smiles add up. As you watch Walt's guard soften, your heart softens with his. A swell comparison with a different generation gap would be Paul Newman's "Nobody's Fool" from 1995.
To repeat the preface, you've never seen Clive Owen like this. On one level, he is still too Brit and too pretty for a part like this and finding Walt's believable merit takes some getting used to. In the end, he pulls it off just enough. It is a welcome and rightly understated performance from Owen, one that deserves to open new doors for him. Jaeden Leiberher follows his debut from "St. Vincent" opposite Bill Murray with nearly an identical role here, but even he shows growth from that film to this one.
"The Confirmation" is the directorial debut of "Nebraska" Oscar-nominated screenwriter Bob Nelson. Even while not possessing anything earth-shattering for comedy, this film has way more pep, purpose, and, most importantly, heart than anything found in his boring collaboration with Alexander Payne from three years ago (save maybe for anything involving the hilarious June Squib). It is still believably minimalist for a small town setting and Nelson's character shading and honesty rings truer here. For all its larger kudos, "Nebraska" is watching paint dry compared to this film. This is an earnest little film worthy of your attention.
LESSON #1: IF YOUR DAD SAYS STAY IN THE TRUCK, DO AS YOU'RE TOLD-- This film's pickle starts with a somewhat precocious kid not following directions. You'll like the movie that follows, but Anthony staying in the truck saves all of the characters a whole swath of trouble.
LESSON #2: NOTHING BEATS UNPLANNED QUALITY TIME BETWEEN A PARENT AND CHILD-- Quality time shouldn't always be scheduled and planned. The best version of it is shared life experiences, both good and bad. Shared challenges build relationships just as strongly as shared joys. Parents, welcome your son or daughter to the reality of your plights. Teach them little things. Teach them the things you love and why you love them. Your kids will see the real you, not a facade of "everything's OK" because we know, soon they will to, that the world isn't always going to be that way. Neither Walt nor Anthony saw this weekend coming, but they are better for going through it.
LESSON #3: TEACHING CHILDREN HOW TO MAKE DECISIONS AND PROMISES-- Let's take Lesson #2 one step further. Sharing your perspective as a parent is half of the effect. The next is empowering your children to live that same ideal or example when you are not there over their shoulder. Teach children what things are important or hold integrity. Between Anthony and Walt, it's Anthony learning to open up and make his own informed decisions based on what results he sees from Walt's.