The week's big evangelical release Miracles From Heaven isn't the only new film about religion in America. The question of faith and its place in everyday life also animates The Confirmation, a deeply affecting comedy-drama starring Clive Owen as a lapsed Catholic who rediscovers something resembling grace through his relationship with his 8-year-old son.
Owen is at the top of his game here with an understated turn as Walt, an unemployed, alcoholic divorcee who undergoes a dizzying series of emasculating setbacks during one of the rare weekends he gets to spend with his son, Anthony.
His pickup truck won't start, so he steals his wife's car, only to find out - in traffic - that its brakes are busted. Then he's evicted. Broke and without access to his booze, he plunges into withdrawal.
Owen impresses, but Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent) dazzles as Anthony, an intelligent, introspective, and ferociously kind kid whose acts of charity sometimes backfire.
The Confirmation is a powerful directorial debut from 59-year-old writer Bob Nelson, who received an Oscar nomination for his first screenplay, Nebraska.
Nelson, who also wrote this one, hangs his weighty themes on a playful, tragicomic story inspired by Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves. Walt finally lands a carpentry job only to discover that his tools have been stolen. With Anthony in tow, he goes on a two-day odyssey to recover his property.
Along the way, they meet a colorful series of oddballs played by a coterie of wonderful actors, including Matthew Modine, Tim Blake Nelson, and Patton Oswalt.
The Confirmation opens with a lengthy scene in a church - Anthony is preparing for his Confirmation. Yet the film has very few overtly Christian elements.
Unlike Miracles From Heaven, Nelson's film doesn't wear its Christianity on its sleeve. A sparse, minimalist story set in a Raymond Carveresque world of boozy tragedy, it evokes the experience of spiritual awakening quietly, with sly subtlety and an outstanding sense of irony.