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

Sorry We Missed You


It’s a grim prognosis for the working class.

(2019) Drama (Zeitgeist/Kino-LorberKris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor, Ross Brewster, Charlie Richmond, Julian Irons, Sheila Dunkerley, Maxie Peters, Christopher John Slater, Heather Wood, Alberto Dumba, Natalia Stonebanks, Jordan Collard, Dave Turner, Stephen Clegg, Darren Jones, Nikki Marshall. Directed by Ken Loach

 

It has likely never been harder to be a working man now than since the Middle Ages. Making ends meet is nearly impossible; wages have dropped sharply while the cost of living continues to rise. Jobs are not plentiful, certainly not of the kind that pay well enough to live decently. Cutting corners has become a way of life as people traverse the gig economy with tentative steps, knowing that they are much like people walking in a minefield with steel-toed boots.

Ricky Turner (Hitchen) has just lost his job in the construction industry and frankly, he’s sick and tired of working jobs that can be taken away from him at a moment’s notice. He wants to be his own boss and make a wage that will allow his family to have the things they need. However, jobs are particularly scarce in Newcastle, where he and his sweet wife Abbie (Honeywood) live with their teenage son Sebastian, or “Seb” as they call him (Stone) and their brilliant tween daughter Liza Jae (Proctor).

One of Ricky’s mates links him up with PBF, a parcel delivery service who is run by the bullet-headed bulldog-like Maloney (Brewster) who runs his business like a drill sergeant. In the parlance of PBF, they don’t hire employees, they onboard independent drivers. Drivers must supply their own vans, or rent one from the company at an exorbitant rate. However, if Ricky works hard and delivers his parcels on time, he will be making more than he ever did in construction, maybe enough so after two years they can save enough to put a down payment on a house, the dream of many renters.

isn’t quite so enthusiastic. In order to buy a van, they’ll have to sell the car that she uses to get to her job which is as an in-home caregiver to the elderly. She goes to their homes, cooks their meals, bathes them and tucks them into bed. She’s ideally suited for the job, but her clients are all over the map and getting to her appointments on time required a car. Taking the bus will cause her to be late more often. However, in the interest of family harmony, she gives in.

At first, things are sunshine and roses. Ricky does well on his route and becomes Maloney’s fair-haired boy, but there are some troubling signs. For one thing, the constant murderous pace of delivering parcels means drivers never get breaks and must learn to pee in a bottle rather than stopping anywhere for a bathroom break. For another, missing delivery windows and deadlines can lead to a system of demerits, which cost the drivers fines which put them in debt to PBF, forcing them to work more.

To make matters worse, Seb is indulging in some hooligan-ish behavior, skipping school, spray-painting graffiti along the roadsides and eventually getting into more serious trouble, forcing his parents to miss work in order to attend meetings with school headmasters and eventually police officers. Ricky is often so exhausted that he can barely see straight when he drives his van and taking the bus has forced Abbie to work longer hours as well. And despite the promise of better pay, the family is barely holding their heads above water as it is – it will take only the slightest of bumps to drown the lot of them.

Loach is one of the finest English directors of the past four decades and when I say that this is one of his best ever, keep in mind that he has films such as The Wind That Shakes the Barley and I, Daniel Blake on his filmography. Like many of his films, this is a taut, no-frills productions – there’s no score, and few special effects. The brisk pace keeps the story moving and whereas lesser directors might get bogged down in subplots, Loach and his longtime collaborator writer Paul Laverty keep their focus throughout.

It doesn’t hurt that he gets fantastic performances from the entire cast, some of whom are non-professionals and Hitchen and Honeywood exhibit some marvelous chemistry and screen presence. The dynamic for the entire Turner family feels organic and realistic; this could be the family living in the flat (or apartment) three doors down from yours, Ricky the guy down at the pub (or bar) rooting for his favorite team (in Ricky’s case, Manchester United).

The accents are very thick here, as they are in that part of England and so subtitles are necessary; some of the phrases may not be familiar to American audiences, so it might be frustrating to those who aren’t familiar with English idioms. Still, this is a marvelous film that is a triumph for the 83-year-old director who shows no signs of slowing down. This is an accurate portrayal of the problems facing the working class, so much so that it may cut a little too close to home for some. Even so, it should be required viewing for economics and business students who should see what the human toll of the current profits-at-any-cost mindset of business worldwide really is.

REASONS TO SEE: A grim portrayal of the working class circa 2019. The family dynamic feels very realistic. Hitchen and Honeywood do bang-up jobs.
REASONS TO AVOID: The heavily-accented English requires subtitles and some of the idioms used may be difficult to follow for the layman.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of profanity, some violence and brief sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The license plate number for Ricky’s van is AK65 JFX.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews: Metacritic: 82/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: DriverX
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

Looking for Eric


Looking for Eric

Steve Evets and Eric Cantona share a Zen moment.

(2009) Family Drama (IFC) Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs, Lucy-Jo Hudson, Cole Williams, Dylan Williams, Matthew McNulty, Laura Ainsworth, Maxton Beesley, Kelly Bowland. Directed by Ken Loach

We all need a little help once in awhile. Sometimes we turn to friends or loved ones, sometimes to a professional. However, when we are being advised by a personal hero, are we just hearing what we want to hear? Or is the advice worthwhile?

Eric Bishop (Evets) is a postal worker in Manchester whose life is falling apart. His stepsons are drifting into thuggery – especially his son Ryan (Kearns) under whose floorboards he finds a drug dealer’s gun – and he regrets walking out on his wife Lily (Bishop) after the birth of his daughter Sam (Hudson), who now has a baby of her own.

He’s 50 and the regrets of a life that he realizes has been messed up beyond all recognition are beginning to sink in. After an impromptu therapy session and the smoking of some stolen weed, Bishop hallucinates his favorite football (what he call soccer – not the American kind) hero Eric Cantona (playing himself) from his beloved Manchester United side popping in to give him advice.

At first Bishop chalks it up to the stress but when Cantona begins to turn up more often he kind of just goes with it. As Ryan’s involvement with the drug dealer begins to escalate into a conflict, Bishop’s friends try to help him out of his jam. However, can anything help him win back his lost love again?

Director Ken Loach is one of England’s best-known and most respected directors. He has a knack for capturing working class Englishmen realistically and naturally. This may be his most mainstream film to date, looking at an ordinary Joe as he reaches the half century mark, full of regrets, stressed out by life and longing for simpler times.

The movie probably would have gotten wider release over here but the language and situation is steadfastly and unapologetically English; most distributors felt (and rightly so) that Americans wouldn’t have the patience for a movie of this nature. I honestly can’t blame them on that score.

However it is a shame – this is the kind of movie that leaves you with a very warm feeling inside. Evets and Cantona have a lovely rapport that infuses the movie with its charm and a certain amount of quirkiness. Cantona seems to have a gentle sense of self-parody, particularly with the image of a cocky, arrogant footballer; he plays trumpet, and he has a little bit of eccentricity as well that is refreshing. Professional athletes are often zealous about maintaining a certain image, so it’s refreshing to see one that is willing to look a little bit out of the box in that regard.

Evets is to my mind a big find here. He plays the embattled postal worker with a certain amount of honesty and grace. His Eric Bishop isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, nor does he have all the answers. He’s made some critical mistakes in his life and doesn’t have a hope of erasing all the ill will he’s generated over the years and yet he’s willing to try and make amends. Better late than never, I say, and watching Evets occasionally stumble through his issues makes him more relatable to my mind.

This is a movie that I don’t think was given much of a chance in the States and while I understand where distributors came from, this is one of those movies that I think deserve to be given a chance. There is always a small segment of American moviegoers who will find a movie that is well-made, even if they don’t always understand the cultural norms behind it. I’m sure if I lived in England and understood the working-class Mancunian culture I’d have had a greater appreciation for Looking for Eric but like the multiple meaning title, there’s plenty to appreciate even if you know nothing about Eric Cantona or the English working class.

WHY RENT THIS: As a slice of life for working class England, this is outstanding.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jargon and accent may be a little difficult for the American audience to understand, as well as some of the football background.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of foul language and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Evets and Cantona are better known for other professions; Cantona as a professional footballer, Evets as a former bassist for The Fall.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD edition, the Blu-Ray has a couple of short films, a music video and a roundtable Q&A with director Ken Loach, star Steve Evets and soccer great Eric Cantona.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.5M on an unreported production budget; my guess is that the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Accepted