Published Nov 20, 2008Relentless in its pursuit of a quiet, slice-of-life glance into the lives of three defeated, depressed and distraught individuals, Ballast works as a minor character piece, preaching the good of harmonious betterment but is so plodding and un-involving that its few moments of profundity barely make the ordeal worthwhile.
Hammers direction and aesthetic are top-notch, taking that completely pretentious "Dogme 95 movement and finding a solemn beauty in it, but many of the scenarios throughout fall short of the urgency for which they strive.
The plot is typical of these home-grown film festival types, with a friendly neighbour (Johnny McPhail) discovering Lawrence (Michael J. Smith, Sr.) in a trance following the drug overdose of his brother, who lies dead in the next room. Despondent, Lawrence shoots himself in the chest (who shoots themselves in the chest?) but recovers with requisite scars. Meanwhile, his brothers son James (JimMyron Ross) gets in trouble with local dope dealers when not smoking crack in a nearby bush.
Desperate for cash, James regularly holds his uncle Lawrence at gunpoint for drug money, despite pleas from his newly unemployed mother Marlee (Tarra Riggs), who forbids her son from seeing his uncle.
While Tarra Riggs carries the film in her own right, making it hard to believe that she went into the film as an untrained actress, both Smith and Ross are easily identifiable as non-actors along for the wooden, slack-jawed ride. In fact, the first third of the film is almost unbearable, as it focuses almost entirely on James and his crack-buying shenanigans. Things become far more engaging when Marlee starts to rebuild the bridge between her and Lawrence.
Ballast is, for all intensive purposes, a good movie, and it is easy to see why it has received so much critical and festival praise. However, it is not a particularly enjoyable or engaging film. The experience of watching it is much like eating All-Bran you know its good for you but it still tastes like cardboard. (Kinosmith)