Film Review: The Confirmation

An Oscar-nominated screenwriter delivers a bland and uninspired dramedy as his directorial debut.
Specialty Releases

With the directorial debut of Bob Nelson, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Nebraska, one may have some hope going into The Confirmation that the movie might recreate some of the magic delivered by Alexander Payne’s memorable dramedy. If nothing else, one can definitely see the movie taking place in the same world as that one, as it follows down-on-his-luck alcoholic carpenter Walt (Clive Owen) as he’s given weekend custody of his son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher of St. Vincent, who also appears in Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special this week) and the two of them drive around their small town trying to find a set of stolen tools that Walt needs to earn a living.

That’s basically the entire plot, and it’s not a particularly interesting one despite the solid cast Nelson has assembled to tell this story. The Confirmation takes a long time to get going, starting out with the look and feel of a TV movie, with much of Nelson’s dialogue delivered as a flat and lifeless drone.

Owen has been cast in worse roles than that of Walt, but he’s also given better performances, and his attempted father-son bonding with Lieberher never quite gels, because they’re lacking any sort of chemistry together. They’re surrounded by the likes of Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson and Maria Bello, all of whom they have brief encounters with as they look for Walt’s tools. Eventually, they come upon Patton Oswalt’s Drake, a fixer of sorts who might have a handle on where the stolen tools may be, and they look for the possible culprits.

One would hope Oswalt’s presence might put more emphasis on the humor in a comedy that’s failed to generate many laughs. He does manage to give the drowsy film a much-needed boost, but his role is only slightly larger than others as it soon returns to just Owen and Lieberher.

The Confirmation doesn’t necessarily deliver on the drama either, with the most dramatic moment being when Walt starts suffering from withdrawal after Anthony hides his car keys. Nelson doesn’t have quite the handle on these characters he should; Anthony is written as if he’s not a particularly smart kid, as the adults around him have to repeatedly explain things to him—“Philistines,” for example—and the needless dialogue just drags things down even further.

The film’s opening in a church and the few mentions of religion and praying might make some sense due to the religious connotations of the title, but Nelson never goes very far with this theme or plays it out in any sort of satisfying way. The storytelling here is weak, and the film never quite finds its footing either as comedy or drama. The musical noodling that makes up the soundtrack also adds little in terms of emotion.

The Confirmation is basically a jumbled mess of ideas that never gives the viewer much reason to care about either of its main characters or their quest for stolen tools, nor does it feel like something we haven’t seen before.

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