Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This film is about the relationship between a young man and his father after his parents’ divorce, and has some coming-of-age stuff mixed in with Catholic themes, but the faith message is more subtle than you would expect. Some cursing, including some derogatory language about women; you hear a parent hitting his child; a couple of instances of guns being drawn and bullying; the mention of crystal meth use; an adult character goes through withdrawal after quitting drinking; a couple of scenes take place in neighborhood bars; some fistfighting; and some trouble with the law, including stealing.
‘The Confirmation’ takes a low-key approach to the role of faith in family life, and that attitude pays off. The film’s darkly comic depiction of a father and pre-teen son struggling to get on the same page is nicely zany.
By Roxana Hadadi
For a while, Clive Owen was a thrilling villain in films like “Killer Elite,” but those days are over. He was curmudgeonly and romantic in “Words and Pictures,” and now he’s struggling and fatherly in “The Confirmation.” As a sad-sack dad trying to do right by his pre-teen son, Owen brings an undeniable gravitas to “The Confirmation,” which introduces its Catholic themes and then backs away, generously letting audiences decide on their own whether they want to believe them or not.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to other Easter-timed faith-based releases, like this week’s “Miracles From Heaven” and last week’s “The Young Messiah,” which cater to a very-specific group of Christian viewers. But “The Confirmation” is aiming for a broader audience, and its family-focused plot will work for a wider swath of viewership. There is forgiveness here, and sincere attempts at being better people, and lessons for children about respect, loyalty, and love.
Sure, there is cursing and some questionable stuff, like a father encouraging a son to steal. The movie isn’t squeaky-clean. But “The Confirmation” is more realistic and entertaining that way, and should appeal to teenagers who aren’t willing to sit through another straightforward faith-based film that doesn’t take any risks.
“The Confirmation” focuses on pre-teen Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher, of “Aloha”) whose parents, Walt (Owen, of “Words and Pictures”) and Bonnie (Maria Bello, of “The 5th Wave”), have recently divorced. Walt is an out-of-work carpenter with a possible drinking problem who only sees Anthony on the weekends, whereas Bonnie has remarried, is throwing herself back into the Catholic faith, and is encouraging Anthony to be more religious.
Anthony doesn’t really know what to do at church and is pretty much a good kid—during confession, when the father asks him if he’s had any “thoughts about sex,” Anthony wonders out loud, “What do those thoughts look like?”—but it’s clear that he’s kind of lonely and stuck in between his parents. But when Bonnie and Anthony’s stepfather go on a weekend retreat to strengthen their marriage and relationship with God, they leave Anthony in Walt’s care—and when Walt’s specialty woodworking tools go missing after he finally lands a job, it’s on the father-son pair to track down who stole them.
“The Confirmation” bounces between being a track-‘em-down mystery and a coming-of-age story for Anthony, and although the tonal shifts are bizarre sometimes (the film makes a shortcut of having characters pull guns on each other to ratchet up the stakes), Owen and Lieberher have a believable relationship that goes a long way toward endearing them to viewers. You see it in Lieberher’s body language while he waits for his father outside of a tavern, clearly an experience that has happened before; you see it in how Owen positions himself between Lieberher and a neighborhood bully after an altercation goes wrong, willing to protect his son at all costs.
And when the two talk about religion, it feels like a natural conversation between a son looking for answers and a father trying to provide guidance without interfering. When Anthony asks Walt why he doesn’t go to church anymore, his response of “I went enough already” feels honest without being judgmental, as is his ultimate advice: “These things that they tell you, they might be true; they might not be true. I think that I don’t know, and neither do they. … Once you’re grown, you can do what you want.” How the film leaves religion open to personal choice is refreshing and unexpected, and “The Confirmation” handles the whole concept quite well.
There are still thematic shortcuts here that are obvious, like when someone says of another character, “He’s a good guy now. He found Jesus,” but ultimately “The Confirmation” works because of believable performances and an open-minded viewpoint about religious belief. Less a faith-based film than a film honest about faith, “The Confirmation” is surprisingly enjoyable.
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