Ballast movie poster
MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Drama
One man's suicide affects three people's lives in the Mississippi Delta.
Starring: Micheal J. Smith, Jim Myron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail
Director: Lance Hammer
Running time: 1:36

Editorial Review

The title "Ballast" apparently refers to the emotional grounding that the three main characters are searching for. But that's just a guess. This festival favorite is deliberately hard to decipher.

Naturalistic to a fault, the somber film is an opaque family drama with elements of a crime story. Writer-director-producer Lance Hammer uses natural lighting that often leaves his nonprofessional cast in darkness. The sound is equally unenhanced, making some of the spare dialogue difficult to understand, and there's no music. The setting is the Mississippi Delta in grim, gray, rainy midwinter.

The story begins with the suicide of Darius Batiste. His middle-aged twin brother, Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.), has been locked up in a house with the body for some time, and when a neighbor comes to check on them, Lawrence tries to kill himself.

Young James (JimMyron Ross) lives nearby and seems to hold a grudge against Lawrence. James's mother, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), struggles with a menial job and is losing control of her son. He's involved with teenagers who sell drugs, and he has a pistol.

Hammer maintains an even tone and methodical pace throughout. Big emotional moments are few and brief. Explanations of how Lawrence, James and Marlee are related to one another are disclosed slowly and without any bright spots of revelation. Despite the actors' lack of experience, the characters are completely believable and interesting throughout. Smith's performance is a study in clinical depression, and the deep sadness of his character is the real core of the film.

"Ballast," though, is less than completely satisfying in a dramatic sense. Events that seem to be important are dropped and left unresolved. Conflicts from the past are mentioned but never explained, as if key scenes were missing. Given that disinterest in conventional narrative techniques, the abrupt ending may be appropriate, but it feels wrong and arbitrary.

-- Mike Mayo (Nov. 14, 2008)

Contains strong language and brief violence.