This film is written and directed by Bob Nelson, who wrote Nebraska, the Alexander Payne directed film with Bruce Dern from a couple of years back. It’s easy to see that this is a script from the same guy. In this movie, Clive Owen plays a working class carpenter who has to watch his son, played by a precocious Jaeden Lieberhaber, over a long weekend while his ex-wife and her new husband go to a Catholic retreat. There are various threads to hang a plot premise on: Walt, Owen’s character, has gotten a job offer, but someone’s stolen his tools, so he needs to find them; Walt is a lapsed Catholic and his son is getting ready for his confirmation; etc. But Nelson isn’t interested in really making this a plot heavy movie; he wants to just follow these characters around and kind of let them bounce off of each other and see what happens. And Nelson has a great cast. Clive Owen is . . . as good as I’ve seen him be in years, like a decade or more, as the quiet, but highly principled carpenter; he’s a man disgusted by the modern world and most people in it because there’s no real skill at work in most of the world and thus no pride in a job well done. He’s a man who’s failed as a husband and as a father, but he has his skill at woodworking and it’s the one thing he can be completely and truly proud of. It’s a nuanced performance and a very well-written character. Lieberhaber, who was not bad in the otherwise awful St. Vincent and has a significant role in Jeff Nichols’ new film Midnight Special, is very good as the son. And the rest of the cast is amazing. Stephen Tobolowsky has a brief cameo as an exasperated priest. Tim Blake Nelson is great as a blustering weirdo. Robert Forster is warm and likable in a small role as a family friend. Patton Oswalt walks off with his section of the movie as a weirdo drywall repairman who fancies himself a private detective of sorts. He’s only in about twenty minutes of the film, but he’s absolutely brilliant, both hilarious and strangely sad. Maria Bello is quite good as Walt’s ex-wife and Matthew Modine is actually really wonderful as her new husband, a nice enough guy who tries but can’t quite overcome his natural smarminess. Perfect role for Modine, obviously. There are some really great scenes. Nelson’s a really great, naturalistic writer and this film is, I’d say, better than Nebraska in the way it has some actual empathy with its characters. But Nelson, in his directorial debut, isn’t much with the camera, but the script and performances are strong enough to overcome the lackluster visuals. I really, really loved this movie, even if it gets a little silly toward the very end. It’s an immaculately acted film with a real focus on characters and the people in this film really come to life in a big way. It’s a quiet movie and it has flaws certainly, but at the end of the day, I was just really taken with the simple people and the simple dilemmas of these people. I think this is a really great film, a few missteps aside. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Clive Owen leads a great ensemble in this melancholy tale of a father/son relationship among the working class; often funny, very thoughtful and focused on characters in a refreshing way. 4 stars.