THE SEATTLE TIMES
“Suicide throws lives for a loop in "Ballast"
"Ballast," an unpolished gem of independent filmmaking with a cast of unknowns, focuses on three lonely characters on the Mississippi Delta and the way they're brought together by the suicide of a relative.
By Jeff Shannon
Special to The Seattle Times
Ballast can sink a ship or keep it on an even keel. I don't know if writer-director Lance Hammer had this in mind when choosing the title for his film (a standout favorite at Sundance a year ago), but it's a perfect title for a perfect film. And by "perfect" I simply mean it's flawless on its own terms. If you'd prefer to see more of its shots in perfect focus, you'd be missing the point entirely.
The film's no-budget aesthetic is integral to Hammer's directorial strategy, and to the simple story he tells without a hint of sentiment or artifice. It takes place in and around two rundown homes on a lonely patch of land in the Mississippi Delta. In one, a man named Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.) sits in silence, stunned by his brother's suicide. In the other, a wood-paneled trailer, the dead brother's ex-wife, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), struggles to make ends meet while her 12-year-old son, James (JimMyron Ross), gets mixed up with local crackheads and his own feelings of aimless uncertainty.
The brother's suicide will draw these survivors together or tear them apart. Discovering which direction they'll ultimately choose is one of the quiet, graceful rewards of watching Hammer's film, which establishes its own voice and vision while owing a debt of influence to the Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, of "Rosetta" fame. Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble" was woven from the same directorial cloth; no matter how you cut it, it bodes well for the current state of American independent cinema.
"Ballast" unfolds over Christmas break. Perhaps the looming holiday spurred the dead brother's depression, but it doesn't really matter. More important is Lawrence's big-hearted humanity and the mutual goodwill that "Ballast" embraces, brought vividly to life between Hammer and his exceptional cast of unknowns, who honed their characters over two months of improvisational rehearsals. Together they've created a valuable, unpolished gem.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org”
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