Ballast Review

Ballast film still


Sags in the final third, but the impeccable craftsmanship keeps matters afloat.

Unmistakably a labour of love, there is precisely nothing on Lance Hammer’s CV that would’ve led you to expect he’d write and direct a bruised, painfully sober art movie like Ballast. His past credits include visual effects art designer on witchy Sandra Bullock hokum, Practical Magic, and digital design associate on Joel Schumacher’s nippled neon turd, Batman & Robin.

From the opening, washed-out shot of a young boy tramping across a field as birds swirl over the glassy horizon, this feels like a movie by someone out to exorcise demons and recalibrate his own artistic sensibility. That it partly fails to cohere can be chalked up to the fact that Hammer is still a pup in this game, but he does manage to make you want to like his film, and the loving fashion in which its crafted invites you to search harder for its endearing elements.

Its oblique story unfolds on the mussy shores of the Mississippi Delta whose mainly black denizens, we discover, exist way below the poverty line. The boy, Jim (JimMyron Ross), is a spiritually untethered and isolated lad, who finds solace in drugs and the warm embrace of a pistol he’s pinched from a meek gentleman who’s attempted suicide. Jim’s mother is dragged into the fold when a band of drug dealers drive the pair off the road, and the film then goes on to flesh out the relationships between these three central characters while offering a bracing portrait of hardscrabble living.

With its docu-realist settings and rough, naturalistic performances, this is not a million miles away from something like David Gordon Green’s George Washington (though less impressionistic), or even a Dardenne brothers movie (though less narratively rigorous). It’s never in doubt that Hammer has made a mightily impressive debut, and if he can tie up the loose ends to form a more robsust drama, his second film should be one hell of a hot ticket.

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