Working Man


A true working man isn’t afraid to stand alone.

(2020) Drama (BrainstormPeter Gerety, Billy Brown, Talia Shire, Bobby Richards, Matthew Russell, J. Salome Martinez, Gary Houston, Patrese McClain, Daniel Leahy, Bradley Grant Smith, Jason Singer, Michael Brunlieb, Kristen Fitzgerald, Ryan Hallahan, Marc Grapey, Liam C. Miller, Aurora Real de Asua, Barbara E. Robertson, Laurie Larson, Bea Cordelia. Directed by Robert Jury

 

There was a time when working in a factory was worthy of respect, a time when America actually made things and “made in the USA” was a symbol of pride. This country had a workforce of me and women that dressed in faded jeans, sturdy work boots and hard hats, trudged to work every morning, lunch pail in hand, and stopped at the local tavern after work to throw down a cold one, shoot some pool and hang out with the guys before heading home for a meatloaf or whatever. Then, watch a little TV, go to bed, and start up again the next day.

We used to make movies about these people as well, so if Working Man feels a little bit like a throwback, it’s understandable because it is. Allery Parkes (Gerety) works at New Liberty Plastics in a Rust Belt town, the last factory in a town that once had a dozen of them. He’s a beefy guy who walks with a bit of a shuffle, a result of spending a lifetime standing on his feet for eight hours. Allery doesn’t say much, doesn’t really even talk to his wife other than a muttered “See you at dinner” as he slowly walks out the door and walks to work, past the row houses of fellow co-workers.

This day is different, though; the factory is closing down. Where once it employed 500 people, the last fifty are being shown the door, kicked to the curb with a pitiful severance check and with few if any prospects for the future. Grim scenes like that have played out in American factories for the last fifty years, so much so that they are kind of rare now because, let’s face it, most manufacturing has shut down in the United States, imported by faceless corporate bean counters to third world countries where labor is cheap, overhead is cheaper and safety precautions are non-existent. It is one of the more shameful effects of capitalism.

Most of his co-workers gather on the porch where they listen to a police scanner because there really isn’t much else to do but Allery was always something of a loner. However, when they see him trudging off to work in the morning, lunch pail in hand, they all wonder if he hasn’t lost his marbles. So, too, does wonder his worried wife Iola (Shire) who calls their pastor (Smith) to talk to Allery, who just grunts and excuses himself, walking out the door.

One person who doesn’t think Allery has lost it is Walter Brewer (Brown), a newcomer who was only employed by the company for less than a year before it was all shut down. He understands that our identity is wrapped up in our employment; the dignity of having a use, of contributing something, of being valued – not so much by those who write the paychecks who rarely value their employees properly, but by those around them.

Allery, unable to face a future of uselessness, has been breaking in to the old factory and finding it without power, cleaning up the place, eating his lunch in a deserted break room by himself which isn’t much of a change. Walter happens to have a set of keys that he copied when asked to oversee the replacement of windows on the dilapidated old factory and he lets the two of them back into the factory, then connives to get the power turned back on and comes up with a kind of strange plan – the factory had closed with orders outstanding. If they can fill those orders, maybe the owners will see the value of the place and reopen the factory. It does sound like a pipe dream but Allery, needing something to do, is amenable.

So the others, alerted by Walter, come back to work and occupy the factory in kind of a disorganized way, gaining attention of the local media which eventually leads the company to take notice. Allery becomes the face of this peculiar worker’s revolt and even as inarticulate as he is, nevertheless resonates.

Movies like this were much more prevalent in the 70s when factory closings had become an epidemic; they were also embraced in the UK where filmmakers like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh made eloquent films about the working class. This is also the kind of film that independent directors should flock to, with a story that resonates with just about anyone, even those who haven’t worked a day in a factory in their lives.

The movie is built around Allery and veteran character actor Gerety brings him to life. You may know him from television roles in Ray Donovan, The Wire and Sneaky Pete. Gerety is pushing 80 now, but has excelled at roles that required no-nonsense performances and this is easily his best work yet. Much of his work is internalized; Allery staring uncomprehending into his wife’s face before turning away, Allery dealing with a family tragedy that has caused him to shut down and close off.

He is supported by Shire, the biggest name in the cast who won acclaim for her performances in The Godfather and the Rocky movies as a Mafia princess in the former and a boxer’s wife in the latter. She is neither Connie Corleone nor Adrian Balboa here but a tired woman who has seen some hard times but has taken comfort in her marriage which has become largely a succession of routines. It’s a marvelous role for her, and she hits it out of the park.

Unfortunately for both of them, the movie makes an odd turn into melodrama in the last third. Jury, he also wrote the film, ends up writing himself into a corner and takes a movie that was going in an interesting direction and perhaps trying to give it a kind of different spin, ends up derailing the trip. I understand him wanting to make this movie uniquely his, and that’s to be commended, but sometimes simple is better.

A movie about people coping with a loss of income and an uncertain future might hit a little too close to home on a day where the news is that we have hit Depression-era levels of unemployment in this country, but the film is nevertheless a strong one that should be checked out if for no other reason because of the performances throughout the cast, including the supporting roles which is a rarity. Jury looks to be a talent to keep an eye out for in the future.

REASONS TO SEE: Gerety gives a stirring performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Starts off promising but descends into melodrama.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Film editors Richard Halsey and Morgan Halsey are father and daughter.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews Metacritic: 72/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gung Ho
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Jesus Rolls

Boom Bust Boom


Terry Jones is bullish.

Terry Jones is bullish.

(2016) Documentary (Brainstorm) Terry Jones, John Cusack, Andy Haldane, Zvi Bodie, Robert J. Shiller, Steven Kinsella, Perry Mehrling, Dirk Bezemer, Wilhelm H. Buited, Paul Mason, John Cassidy, Steve Keen, James Galbraith, Randall Wray, Nathan Tankus, Daniel Kahneman, Laurie Santos, Lucy Prebble. Directed by Terry Jones, Bill Jones and Ben Timlett

It is a fact of life that our lives are deeply affected by forces largely out of our control. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of these forces are literally beyond our understanding; one of those things is economics. Economics make the world go round in a capitalist society; when the system is working properly, prosperity is shared. When it isn’t however…

Jones, who some may remember from the subversive Monty Python comedy team from the 70s, aims to make sense of why bad things happen to economies. Using interviews with economists and historians to explain why economies that are booming end up going bust eventually.

The concepts are certainly interesting; basically Jones and his fellow filmmakers are arguing that the tendency for good economic times to breed a kind of euphoria that leads to bad decision making, an onset of greed and an eventual “bubble bursting” which takes the economy down. A lot of the concepts here have been argued by now-deceased economists like John Kenneth Galbraith (who like the other deceased thinkers are portrayed here by puppets and voiced by voice-over actors) and present-day ones like Haldane, Kinsella and Bodie.

But unlike most of the financial documentaries we’ve seen in the last couple of years, the finger-pointing that goes on (and there is some, to be honest) is tempered by an optimism that things can change. However our entire institutional mindset has to change, beginning with how we educate our up and coming economists. We see some interviews with college students studying for economic degrees who know little of the history of economic crises, from the Dutch Tulip crisis of the 17th century to the Great Depression of 1929 to even the most recent recession.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, which makes not teaching it more of a crime. And in some ways, this entire documentary – only an hour and 15 minutes long – feels a bit like a teaching aid at an advanced high school teaching economics for students who might want to be economists someday. The puppets and animations that accompany the fairly dry talking head interviews are at least entertaining if at times simplistic.

However, there aren’t enough of them to really elevate this and the interviews can be a bit sleep-inducing, although there are a few charismatic sorts here including activist-actor Cusack who has some pretty strong opinions on the 2008 subprime bubble collapse. There’s also some fascinating information not only about the various bubbles but how they are part of human nature as anthropologist Laurie Santos shows an experiment in which monkeys on an island off of Miami were made to have a capitalist-like society with “monkey money” exchanged for the things they need and how they made horrible decisions based on manipulation by the scientists.

I find stuff like this fascinating; Da Queen, who works in the financial sector, is not normally very enthusiastic about these sorts of documentaries – it’s too much like being at work, she tells me – but she liked this one even more than I did, which should tell you something. I did find the interviews to be occasionally sleep-inducing, but that doesn’t mean that Jones and cohorts don’t explain the subject well, nor that the information isn’t good and necessary.

Not everyone will get into this, but this is useful information in understanding how the economy works. And we all should have at least a basic understanding of it, particularly if we intend to do any investing. If we’re going to make the right decisions with our money, we should understand how the system can work against us – or for us. Education is the first step in making things better; movies like this one provide it.

REASONS TO GO: The puppetry and some of the animation is fun. Some very interesting historical information.
REASONS TO STAY: A very dry topic indeed. A whole lot of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult themes and topics.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Directors Terry and Bill Jones are father and son, respectively.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Capitalism: A Love Story
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Automatic Hate