Starring: Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Mario Bello, and Patton Oswalt. Directed by Bob Nelson. Rated PG (Mild themes, coarse language and violence). 101min.
This Canadian drama tells the story of a young boy, Anthony, who is nervous about spending time with his father, while his mother and her new husband go on a Catholic retreat together.
Anthony is to have his First Communion and Confirmation the following weekend.
The story outline is based loosely on the 1948 Italian classic, Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio de Sica, and the film is the directorial debut for Bob Nelson, who wrote the screen-play for acclaimed movie, Nebraska (2013).
The title of the movie has double meaning: it refers to the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation, but it also refers to obtaining an assurance that a relationship between two people, who belong together, can be “confirmed”.
The film opens with Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) confessing hesitantly to his local priest, Father Lyons (Stephen Tobolowsky), that he hasn’t sinned at all, and the movie ends with Anthony’s confession to the same priest of a litany of sins that needs context to explain them.
By the end of the movie, the things Anthony confesses all come from a series of wild adventures with his father.
Anthony’s father is an alcoholic carpenter, called Walt (Clive Owen), who is told by his ex-wife (Maria Bello) that he has to look after his eight-year-old son, Anthony, while she and her new husband are away.
Walt reluctantly agrees, and when his toolbox is stolen, he and his son go searching for the thieves. Their shared escapades create a series of exciting adventures for Anthony, and they bring father and son much closer together. Essentially, the movie is a coming-of-age story about a boy learning to bond with his father. The acting of Jaeden Lieberher, in particular, is outstanding.
The confessional scenes where Anthony tells the priest that he never lies are contradicted by Anthony lying to prevent his father from taking a drink.
The various people Anthony and his father meet on their journey to recover the stolen box of tools are all colourful and eccentric and lie to themselves. Vaughan (Tim Blake Nelson), for instance, says he has discovered Jesus, but he beats his son. Another thief, Drake (Patton Oswalt), claims he knows everybody in town, but that is not the case.
Together, Walt and Anthony mutually share their doubts and worries about what is wrong and what is right, and the film has lots of father-son discussions of the differences between faith and conscience. The film’s final message is that religion exists to guide us, but we as individuals must make the effort to live as good people. It teaches us that it is often very difficult to know the right way, and when people sin, it is important to think also of forgiveness.
This is a warm and gentle film: it is not faith-based in its conception, and it tackles life and religion in a comic, often cynical way. It takes a low-key look at family life, and social poverty in rural Canada, and communicates its truths with a human edge.
In the course of 24 hours, Anthony moves from not being a sinner to doing things he shouldn’t do most of the time. The film itself offers a superficial look at Catholic morality, and interprets events in a non-theological way, but it has worthwhile moral messages to communicate, and it entertains.
What rises well above the film’s theological reflections about life is the depth of humanity of its story line. This is a terrific movie about father-child bonding. Anthony grows through the lessons in life he learns with his father.
Anthony’s mother hopes that Confirmation the following week will continue the growth that she sees has occurred, but this is not a movie that has been made to give such assurance. Rather, it is a film about flawed people trying to do their best, and a boy’s tentative journey to emotional maturity, helped by a father’s understanding love.
Peter Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Icon Film Distribution.
Released 15 September 2016.
The Archdiocese of Perth Communications Office has one prize pack to give away in conjunction with the release of The Confirmation. Valued at $45, the DVD prize pack includes the following films: Infinitely Polar Bear, Dan In Real Life, Death At A Funeral and What Women Want.
To enter simply tell us why you would like to see the film in 25 words or less. Please email all entries to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address and a contact number by Thursday 15 September. The Winner will be contacted by Friday 16 September.