Set in the streets and yards of an older suburb of Washington state, Bob Nelson's The Confirmation plays, at its best, like a dispatch from rural America as it actually is: underemployed, sometimes hostile to strangers, sympathetic if not actually obedient to the church and more multicultural than the media usually depicts. The look is often drab by design, drizzly and gray, as unfussy as the jeans and flannels Clive Owen's Walt is frumped into. The scenario owes something to De Sica's Bicycle Thieves, but Nelson's milieu is stripped of sublimity, his tone varies with less certainty and he favors a sort of recession slapstick over a worker's tragedy.
Owen, playing a woozy agnostic from Raymond Carver's world rather than Thomas Kinkade's, is spared the conversion scene you might dread. Instead, Walt tells his son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), with warm matter-of-factness, that the kid needs to go to church and get confirmed like his mother says to -- but then figure it all out for himself. Nelson's film never pushes faith on us, but it also never lampoons it.
Nelson wrote Nebraska, his first produced screenplay; The Confirmation is the first he's directed. Both share episodic quest structures, escalating comic danger and delight in the deadpan flatness of much rural white American speech. Like Alexander Payne's film, The Confirmation is rich with epigrammatic chatter: Walt's fumbling "I don't drink anymore, and even when I do, it's not that much" could be the chorus of a country-radio hit. And whereas Nebraska's precise compositions emphasized disconnectedness in an indifferent world, The Confirmation is loose and shaggy, sometimes shot on handheld cameras, open to possibilities -- these characters aren't locked into their fates.
Bob NelsonClive Owen, Jaeden Lieberhe, Maria Bello, Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson, Patton Oswalt, Matthew Modine, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ryan Robbins, Spencer DreverBob NelsonBob Nelson, Todd HoffmanSaban Films