Ballast Review

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Mississippi shopkeeper Lawrence (Smith), is mourning the suicide of his brother, when his son-in-law James (Ross) mugs him, looking for cash to feed his crack habit. Lawrence and James start to build bridges, though, when sister-in-law Marlee (Riggs) moves in.


Special effects expert Lance Hammer makes an auspicious directorial debut with this moody Mississippi melodrama. No-one says much, but the pain is tangible as African-American shopkeeper Micheal J. Smith mourns his twin’s suicide and seeks to build bridges with sister-in-law Tarra Riggs and thieving tweenage nephew Jim Myron Ross after they move to his homestead. Improvising on the back of extensive workshopping, the non-professional cast are exceptional. But it’s Lol Crawley’s restless camerawork and Kent Sparling’s inspired sound that enable Hammer to capture the oppressive isolation and spirit-crushing ennui of the backwater landscape. Owing much to Charles Burnett, David Gordon Green and the Dardennes, simultaneously bleak and beautiful, warm and sombre, this is what slice-of-life cinema should look and feel like.

Tough as teak but tender with it, Lance Hammer's debut gets a long overdue - and very welcome - UK release. It puts the 'blue' into bluegrass, but finds plenty of uplift and emotion too. Excellent.