Tuesday, November 24, 2009

DVD Views: Ballast

Ballast *** ½
Directed By:
Lance Hammer.
Written By: Lance Hammer.
Starring: Micheal J. Smith Sr. (Lawrence), JimMyron Ross (James), Tarra Riggs (Marlee), Johnny McPhail (John).

Ballast is a movie about a family that was torn apart years ago. Although they all continued to live in the same small Mississippi town, they never see each other. Now the estranged father has killed himself, and left his small house to his ex-wife and son. The problem is that the house is on the same property as another small house, belonging to the dead man’s brother, who may have been responsible for the family coming apart in the first place. To make matters worse, the two brothers also run a convenience store together, which now belongs in part to the mother. Bitter feelings are on all sides of this battle. But what Ballast is not, is a film about hysterics and arguments and really resolving the problems. These people have too much to do in their lives to get into arguments about the past. Although they don’t much like each other, they need to find a way to co-exist.

At the beginning of the movie, we don’t really know why everything fell apart in the first place, just that it did. Now Lawrence (Michael J. Smith) is all alone, and depressed, since his brother killed himself. He tries to kill himself as well, but is not as successful as his brother was. When a young teenager, James (JimMyron Ross) arrives at the door and demands money, he knows that it is his nephew, and he gives him what he can. He doesn’t even report it to the police, even though the teenager arrives with a gun in tow. Marlee (Tarra Riggs), the mother, doesn’t want anything to do with her ex, or his brother, but she has no job and no money, and sees this as perhaps a chance to give her, and her son, a leg up in a world that doesn’t seem to care about them. When James gets into debt with some local drug dealers, who appear dangerous, she decides that they have no choice but to move in next to Lawrence. They try and stay away from each other, but cannot. It’s a small property after all.

Ballast is probably a film that will frustrate most viewers. There is no artificial drama in this film – in fact there is nothing artificial about the film at all. It simply observes these characters in their day to day lives. It doesn’t feel the need to explain everything from one scene to the next. These characters know what happened in the past, so why do they need to discuss it? It is a film about ordinary lives – about three broken, wounded people, who slowly, gradually lean on each other to help fix themselves.

I will admit to being kind of frustrated at the beginning of the movie, as I struggled to connect the dots between these characters, and what it all meant. But the movie won me over a little more with each passing scene, until by the end I was completely absorbed by these characters and their lives. The ending of the film isn’t exactly a happy one – but it signals that perhaps at some point in the future, there could be one. For characters in a movie like Ballast, perhaps that is the best we can hope for.

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