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Review: Ballast

Lance Hammer’s Ballast suggests and suffers from the influence of the Dardenne brothers.

Photo: Alluvial Film Company

Lance Hammer’s Ballast suggests and suffers from the influence of the Dardenne brothers. Set somewhere in the vast Mississippi Delta, the film hangs from the backs of a single mother, her troubled son and the uncle who lives next door, though it takes a while to piece together how everyone is related, how close they live to one another and what exactly accounts for the depth of their sorrows. The film occurs in jolts of intense atmosphere and emotion: One moment the characters are at each others’ throats, the next they’re playing nice, but the process by which they transition between these two modes of feeling is left entirely to our imaginations. Hammer accomplishes this effect through an almost absurd use of ellipsis, conveying an impressively harried mood but wildly pushing context out of the frame. Lawrence attempts suicide after the death of his brother, but it isn’t until the end of the film that audiences learn that the dead man was also his twin, thus rationalizing what may be perceived as a cataclysmic sense of cut-in-half torment on actor Michael J. Smith Sr.‘s face, and when a plotline involving thugs chasing after young James (JimMyron Ross) for $100 evaporates inexplicably from the narrative, we’re meant to think the debt was somehow resolved. Beautiful as Hammer’s wintry-blue cinematographic textures may be, his extreme case of Dardenne-O-Vision negates rather than illuminates the suffering of the film’s impoverished black family, and though the performances are solid, the actors seem to be pantomiming their characters’ decrepitude. Suggesting something emanating from a negative void, Ballast presents the life of its characters as blank canvases, hoping audiences won’t mind coloring them in with the nuance the film itself lacks for.

Cast: Michael J. Smith Sr., Jimmyron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail Director: Lance Hammer Screenwriter: Lance Hammer Distributor: Alluvial Film Company Running Time: 96 min Rating: NR Year: 2008 Buy: Video

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