The suicide of one man in the Mississippi delta affects the lives of three people. His twin brother Lawrence, his wife Marlee and their son James. In his suicide note, he leaves behind both the store and the joint land housing they lived in, they are forced to have to work together to rebuild their lives after tearing into each other in past emotional battles.
When Ballast debuted at Sundance in 2008, you could not stop the amount of awards and acclaim it had recieved from then on. Director/Producer/Editor Lance Hammer won the Directing Award and grabbed the Excellence in Cinematography Award in the Dramatic Competition and from then on, everywhere it went it had grabbed Grand Prizes and Directorial prizes in places like San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. For some reason, despite all the praise from critics and festivals alike, it had not got a wider release until now through Axiom Films. Axiom’s reputation of picking interesting and unconventional films has helped it with last year’s Leap Year and Easier with Practice unfortunately doesn’t quite hit those same highs with Ballast.
The main weakness of Ballast, which is also in varying degrees in Axiom produced films, is the mentality it has for establishing the situation rather than expanding on the story. With Leap Year and Easier than Practice, it worked for the settings and characters that were around for it. It may just be me demanding a bit more flow from movies and, as others on the MMM film team have proven, we are all accustomed to different film preferences but too much time was taken up for me with the cinematography, which deserves all the accolades it received in 2008. Strange sentence, sure, but I’ll explain. Much of the film revolves around setting up where they are, such as shots of people in cars looking outside or people looking out of windows or people walking around wondering. For a film such as this, you can put a deeper meaning into the situation by using these shots. However, it felt almost like it needed to remind you where they are and their situation and it got to the point where it almost felt like it was intruding on the story and how it was set out. I’m not the kind of guy who would tell a director about cinematography because, again, some of it looks great, it is just a shame that it had to take a bite out of the fiction as it did.
It also never feels that the characters have the same consistency in their traits. Marlee, who is probably the weakest of the three protagonist, is shown being strong and standing up to Lawrence in one second and open to his support first and in that, there’s a deep feeling that something doesn’t quite add up in filling the gap to these conclusions despite you fully knowing that, to make this work, they would have to work together. James kind of feels like a typical stereotypical young boy from the poor background for the first act, getting himself in trouble with druggies and stealing from Lawrence to keep his life in order. After all this happens, he barely has a presence in the second act besides being a plot point about him getting educated. Micheal J. Smith Sr is the strongest performer as Lawrence. He doesn’t seem to want to fall in the cracks wanting to fully stand up to Marlee when the situation calls for it, but he never allows himself to take the attitude of others simply because, well, he hasn’t got much left to take an attitude on. It is almost charming in a way in how he does it, especially considering what it has been set out that he did or who he let down.
Ballast’s flaws doesn’t come from its concept, nor does it come from what it was intending to show. The real downfall of Ballast was the execution of the concept. Instead of being a thought provoking story using very well done camera techniques, it falls into the problem that most of these films fall into of telling its story in a snail’s pace and even when it concludes, you’re still left with more questions than answers. Along with that being it’s biggest flaw, it’s also the biggest shame. The potential that it has going there never quite lives up as it should have.
Ballast is out now in selected cinemas.