The Confirmation plays out like a Sherlock Holmes tale set in a scarce stretch of rural America, with weekend dad Walt (Clive Owen) and his precocious son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) spending a murky 24 hours chasing down a stolen tool kit.
In the directorial debut from Nebraska writer Bob Nelson, the role of Sherlock and Dr Watson is an often-shifting position, with Walt having enough trouble looking after himself, and his young son Anthony often being the one closing the gap between themselves and the stolen goods.
The toolbox-leads introduce audiences to a spree of unique and dry-wit characters, from the delirious but good intending dry-wall detective Drake to the ‘better than most thieves’ Vaugn with each character interacting with the father-son duo in engaging ways.
These moments offer a glimpse into the rural figures that characterise Bob Nelson’s style and in the same way those moments defined Nebraska they add a dark but very interesting humour to The Confirmation.
In their subtle quirkiness, the characters and their crimes could be placed into a Coen Brothers film almost seamlessly, and given Nelson’s previously cited the brothers as an inspiration, the film becomes a lot deeper in context. Beyond the layer of rural living, The Confirmation takes a look at a child’s growing understanding of the world through the scope of moral choices.
Everyone in The Confirmation is a victim. There’s Walt who’s being pinned down by his past alcoholism, Allan who suffers beatings from his father Vaughn, who himself seems to be having trouble finding Jesus, Drake who remains surprisingly plump for a meth user and the cycle of the stolen tools that never seem to benefit anyone who comes across them.
These series of hard realities weigh down on Anthony’s moral decisions, and when looking at his first confessional next to his last, it’s as though he’s answered his own question, that it is ok to lie if it’s for a good purpose.
The most bittersweet scenes from The Confirmation come when a character breaks a commandment. When Walt lies about his identity and passes a driving ticket onwards to Anthony’s awkward step father or when Allan nabs the toolbox back from the pawn shop owner who fails to acknowledge that they’ve been stolen, it feels like justice has been done.
The writing from Bob Nelson is brilliant, and at times, prevails the delivery. Lines like ‘if he found Jesus, maybe he can find my tools’ would have looked a lot better on paper than they sounded on screen. The problem is that the acting and at times the directing, fails to fulfil the promise of the writing. That’s not to say the acting or directing is particularly bad, just not quite as special as the writing, and what’s left is a lingering thought of what could have been.
Jaeden Lieberher has taken another role as the sensitive, special kid and has continued to grow with an excellent performance as the curious and confused Anthony. Given that he was cast almost immediately after meeting with Nelson, the role couldn’t have been more suited for the young actor. The same could not be so easily said for Clive Owen, who gives an eclectic performance as Walt. At times he appears so natural and collected, yet during scenes where emotions have escalated he loses this comfort and in ways, resembles a Wicker Man Nicholas Cage.
The films progresses as Anthony does and his learning dictates how the acts conclude. The odd silence and pauses, accompanied by a limited soundtrack make some scenes hard to grasp or believe, but the writing and Jaeden Lieberher’s development as both a character and an actor carry the film through to the final confession, where audiences realise how much has really happened in the film to point.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Confirmation is Available on Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital – January 11