Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Ballast" (2008) - Movie Review

Ever wonder who lives in those departed rectangle houses by the highways? Why do they have two identical places, both visually sullen but carrying the separated depression within the shortest distance? May be it has a story what Lawrence (Michael J. Smith Sr.) has in “Ballast.” A man dissolved in the loss of his brother. He survived suicide and now he do not know what to do with left fragments of his so called existence. He sits in his house and just spends the day as it goes. His grievance is practicing nothing and running the sorrow in the mind repeatedly, as any one might do. This indie feature debut by Lance Hammer is a short film extended, without losing the charm of it.

How was Lawrence before the death of his brother Darrius? Was he practicing the same kind of silence and inertness? We do not know but the sense of his approach to sadness is all we get to see of him. He is so much devastated by his brother’s suicide, he cannot react to the shock. It takes a neighbour to come by and then he comes to his senses only to shoot himself in the chest. He survives and comes back to a home of loss. He stays and does nothing.

When Lawrence is grieving for his brother, there is James (JimMyron Ross), a kid falling to the system of drugs and fighting for survival in the streets. His mother Marlee (Tarra Riggs) does menial work and works hard to make ends meet. Lawrence and these two are related through Darrius. “Ballast” lets out information on need to know basis and it is done so with a slowness for the events.

This patient film does not have any music or amplified emotions. It acts upon the instances of every day life in a tough beaten outskirts of a small town. We never do see the small town. Lawrence and Darrius had a gas station on the highway and now Lawrence visits to get basic grocery to extend his uninteresting and unambitious life.

The bad acquaintance of James leads to the desperation from Marlee which is to move temporarily at her ex-husband’s remains of his last breath. From here on the relationship between these three is the most consolidated and realistic form of look given in the recent films. Hollywood has always portrayed African American characters to as much stereotyping as possible. Even in the best of the films, there is a hideous presumption and in “Ballast,” we for the first time come across a unique calm character who Lance Hammer introduces us to.

It is too bad that the film got itself cornered to the indie market. The movement of the story is not a textbook formula for independent films but it navigates days within scenes without losing the emotional continuity. Eventful days are sparse because the routine of life is like that. Lawrence, Marlee and James come to the eventual understanding of the family they got into. They had problems before which are told in one or two dialogues and confrontations but the intensity between them is enough to know that they hate each other.

“Ballast” smoothes into these hopelessness and nothingness of grief Lawrence has and when James as a kid looking for trouble barges in pointing gun at him, his instinct makes him to lift the hand but inside, he does not care much at all. Michael J. Smith Sr. a debutant gives one of the intense calm performance. He brings in the melancholy and the love his Lawrence has for his brother. This is one of those lost gems which now is there to be found.

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