By Willie Krischke — January 9, 2010
On the edges of “Ballast” is a well-meaning neighbor. He comes to check on the main character, Michael J. Smith, because he hasn’t seen him or his brother for a while. He finds Smith’s brother in the bedroom, the victim of suicide. Smith is paralyzed with grief, and it is this neighbor who calls the police, takes care of the details, gives Smith’s dog a place to stay for a few days. Smith never asks him to do anything. He hardly speaks to him. And the neighbor, for his part, is standing at the edge of a very deep abyss, dropping stones, waiting to hear them hit bottom. He never hears a thing.
That’s how I felt while watching Ballast: I identified with that neighbor. I wanted good things for these characters, I cared about them, but I was mystified watching them. I wondered what they were feeling, and what they would do next, and what would be helpful for them. And like the neighbor, I perpetually felt outside, locked out, peeking in windows, running to my own window when car engines started or doors slammed. Probably you know the feeling.
And that feeling will make “Ballast” either exactly your kind of movie or very much not your kind of movie. We grow so used to actors emoting in front of us, giving us full access to their characters’ very private processes; their agonies and exhilaration. But life isn’t much like that. Most of us play much closer to the chest, especially when the stakes are high.
So do you like movies that show you what you’ll never see in real life–a young man at the very moment he falls in love, an old man living out the grief of his regrets–or does it feel fake and showy to you? “Ballast” is about characters living through some very intense, very emotional stuff – and keeping a stone face through almost all of it. The smallest gesture carries weight, because big gestures belong in big movies. This is a small, true movie, but you will have to decide for yourself if it’s one you’ll enjoy.