Writer/director Bob Nelson‘s comedy/drama The Confirmation, difficult to find in theaters this year but now on DVD, has been described as “understated” by critics. Its lead characters are Walt as an “alcoholic deadbeat dad” and his young son Anthony, who’s sweetly dad-adoring though worried about him.
According to various reviewers, if you’ve seen Nelson’s previous screenplay, Nebraska, you’ll recognize some similarity in style and theme.
Andy Webster, New York Times, briefly summarizes the plot of The Confirmation, which “is seemingly simple: A handyman, Walt (Clive Owen), whose drinking cost him his marriage, has a weekend with his 8-year-old son, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), while his ex (Maria Bello) is on a church-sponsored couples retreat with her new man (Matthew Modine).”
Walt’s gotten himself a needed job, but his tools have been stolen. Rex Reed, New York Observer, taking it from there:
For the next two days, he tries to find the thief, get his toolbox back, and stay sober long enough to be a real father to the boy who loves him unconditionally. The weekend turns into something of a nightmare as Dad, struggling to be responsible, and his son, trying to be helpful, embark on a series of adventures both dangerous and funny. Not to mention contrived.
Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com:
They encounter a collection of oddballs and, if looking at it from a moral perspective, sinners. There’s Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a reformed thief who ‘found Jesus’ but still beats his young son Allen (Spencer Drever). That lead brings the pair to a comic interlude involving Drake (Patton Oswalt), another thief, whose claim to know everyone in town becomes doubtful. The only, clearly decent man of the bunch is Walt’s long-time friend Otto (Robert Forster), who comes at a moment’s notice to help Anthony with his father and to explain the effects of alcohol withdrawal to the boy.
Tom Long, Detroit News: “The quest, of course, is a rich bonding experience for father and son. Anthony sees a bigger world, and Walt at his most vulnerable and Walt realizes Anthony’s resourcefulness and surprising gumption.”
Adam Nayman, AV Club, explains the title as well as key plot development: “…The Confirmation opens with 8-year-old Anthony…reluctantly taking confession with his local priest; the joke is that, when pressed, an innocent pre-teen boy can’t really think of anything he’s done wrong. By the end of the film, Anthony will have amassed a (modest) list of sins, but more importantly, he’ll have a much better understanding of the idea of forgiveness…”
In the end Walt will have been partly responsible for this lesson, states Soren Andersen (Seattle Times), for “giving [Anthony] sound advice on how to understand religion and, more broadly, how to successfully navigate in the world: ‘Listen to what they say, then decide for yourself what you think is right’.”
The trailer for The Confirmation follows:
Tirdad Derakhshani, Philly.com: “A sparse, minimalist story set in a Raymond Carveresque world of boozy tragedy, it evokes the experience of spiritual awakening quietly, with sly subtlety and an outstanding sense of irony.”
Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “The movie’s not just good but moving, funny, and true to the way people actually live in hard-times America.”
Mark Dujsik, rogerebert.com: “This is a smart, effective coming-of-age tale about a boy figuring out that there are gray areas to life’s moral choices.”