The Confirmation is a familiar tale of father and son and people down on their luck. Writer-director Bob Nelson (the Oscar-nominated scribe of Nebraska) makes his directorial debut here, punctuating a been-there story with honesty. As he did with Nebraska, Nelson knows how to write everyday people, experiencing everyday problems.
As the film opens, young Anthony (St. Vincent‘s Jaeden Lieberher) is in a confessional. The priest (Stephen Tobolowsky) asks Anthony for his sins but Anthony isn’t sure what to say. The priest pesters him because certainly a young boy must have gotten into some mischief since his last confession. Anthony seems innocent enough but appeases the priest.
Outside, his mother Bonnie (Maria Bello) is waiting for him to be done with his penance. It becomes evident that Anthony only went to appease his mother, as is with his pending Communion and Confirmation. This is what feels true to life in The Confirmation. Having grown up in Catholic school and brought to church by my family, Anthony is at that age where he doesn’t even know that he can form his own opinion but goes through the motions at church because it’s what is expected of him.
Bonnie and her new husband are going away for the weekend and Anthony gets to stay with his father, Walt (Clive Owen). When the world-weary Walt picks up his son from Bonnie, it is clear he is battling his demons. Bonnie warns Walt that he is not allowed to drink around Anthony and it becomes evident that Walt’s history with alcohol has caused a rift in his relationship with Bonnie and his son.
Walt has a habit of not listening, so his first stop with Anthony is a bar (he’s drinking a Root Beer). Walt is a carpenter, who hasn’t had much luck finding work and has to meet a few guys about a potential job. Anthony leaves Walt’s truck unattended for a matter of minutes and tools are stolen from the back. These tools are how Walt makes his living and they spend the weekend trying to get them back.
Owen and Lieberher are wonderful together and have perfect father-son chemistry. They help make The Confirmation feel like an authentic story, even when some elements are far too on-the-nose. The mom good, dad bad, element has been explored many times but Nelson adds a different element to his story. Though Bonnie seemingly has tried to persuade Anthony his father is not the best dad in the world, Anthony learns from his father that it is okay to think for yourself. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to go to church if you don’t really want to.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
The Confirmation is a sweet but familiar tale of father and son. Writer-director Bob Nelson really understands these characters and what they are going though. Clive Owen and Jaeden Lieberher have chemistry that holds the entire film together.