Set in the bleak expanse of a Mississippi delta township, Ballast follows three individuals thrown together following the death of a family member.
Set in the bleak expanse of a Mississippi delta township, Ballast
follows three individuals thrown together following the death of a
Single mother Marlee (Tarra Riggs) is struggling to keep her head above water, working long hours at a dead-end job in order to keep her 12-year-old son James (JimMyron Ross)
in school. James has other ideas and, largely left to his own devices,
he turns to delinquency, eventually falling in with the wrong crowd who
know an easy target when they see one. When Marlee’s ex-husband’s kill
himself, they’re reunited with his twin-brother Lawrence (Michael J. Smith),
who spends most of his time in nearly mute depression, but conflict
arises when old wounds are reopened and unresolved issues rise to the
Director Lance Hammer, in his debut, has a great eye for
windswept shorelines and washed out landscapes and Lol Crawley’s
cinematography is almost post-apocalyptic, bathing everything in a
watery grey light that underscores the crushing sense of ennui and
The acting while downbeat is first rate – Hammer’s decision to use
non-professional actors really pays off. In particular Michael J. Smith
is superb – a lumbering, gentle giant of a man with a permanent
hang-dog expression – his face often says much more than words could.
He’s ably supported by Tarra Riggs, her damned up emotions threatening
to overspill her responsibilities.
However, despite its intriguing set up and compelling acting, Ballast
lacks the pace and momentum to keep it completely captivating. There
are far too many shots of characters staring out of windows for extended
periods of time – while it’s intended to convey deep thought and
stimulate reflection on the part of the viewer; its overuse quickly
belabours its impact. It’s a trait common to many independent films,
where inaction is construed as profound contemplation but it makes for
soporifically dull cinema.
In attempting to put mood before plot, Ballast struggles to reach a
satisfying conclusion. Its meandering eventually leads its resolution
being crammed into the final act, a decision which leaves it uneven.
It’s a heartfelt portrayal of grief and reconciliation beautifully
framed, shot and acted but its sluggish tempo prevents it from having
the weight that its title suggests.