BALLAST written and directed by Lance Hammer, with Micheal J. Smith Sr., Tarra Riggs and Jim Myron Ross. A Kino Smith release. 98 minutes. Opens Friday (November 21). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
Ballast sets as its dramatic locus a man, a woman and a child. All three live in a small town somewhere in the Mississippi Delta, though not all together. How they relate to one another, and the complicated nature of that connection, is something you really don't want to know before you see the film.
Ballast is a difficult film to review; if I go into the details of the plot, you'll be denied the experience of putting them together for yourself. But while that statement suggests that the movie is a puzzle to be solved, it isn't any such thing. Indeed, it's one of the most direct and uncomplicated dramas you'll see this year - and one of the most poetic.
Steeped in racial history and Southern culture, Ballast is a distinctly American drama constructed with European tools. It wouldn't be out of place among the observational dramas of Robert Bresson or the vérité social studies of the Dardenne brothers.
What I will say is that writer-director Lance Hammer gets terrific performances out of his non-professional cast, and his minimalist approach to narrative somehow winds up speaking dramatic volumes. And if Ballast ultimately doesn't break any new ground in American cinema, it does what it does exceptionally well.