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Ballast (2008)



Average Rating: 7.4/10
Reviews Counted: 74
Fresh: 68
Rotten: 6

Critics Consensus: A searing debut by director Lance Hammer, this subtle and contemplative Mississippi set drama lingers long after its conclusion.

Average Rating: 7.8/10
Reviews Counted: 23
Fresh: 22
Rotten: 1

Critics Consensus: A searing debut by director Lance Hammer, this subtle and contemplative Mississippi set drama lingers long after its conclusion.


Average Rating: 3.5/5
User Ratings: 4,125


Movie Info

In the cold, winter light of a rural Mississippi Delta township, a man's suicide radically transforms three character's lives and throws off-balance what has long been a static arrangement among them. Marlee is a single mother struggling to scratch a living for herself and James, her 12-year-old son, who has begun to stumble under drug and violence pressures. So when the opportunity to seek safe harbor at a new home arises, she grabs it, though the property is shared by Lawrence, a man with whom … More

Art House & International , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
Lance Hammer
In Theaters:
Nov 10, 2009
Alluvial Film Company - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Ballast

All Critics (76) | Top Critics (23) | Fresh (68) | Rotten (6) | DVD (4)

Although the film never fulfils the promise of its elliptical, mysterious opening - the drama occasionally lacks momentum as it proceeds towards some sort of resolution - there's no denying its intelligence, compassion and assurance.

Full Review… | March 16, 2011
Time Out
Top Critic

Debut writer/director Lance Hammer has rendered [Ballast] with something that can only be called radiant austerity.

Full Review… | November 21, 2008
Toronto Star
Top Critic

This ostensibly simple film evokes whole lives in 96 minutes, and does so with sparse dialogue.

Full Review… | November 21, 2008
Wall Street Journal
Top Critic

This is a cinematic tone poem, where the dominant mood is a Faulknerian mix of sorrow and endurance...

Full Review… | November 21, 2008
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

What this unclassifiable story may lack in decibels, it has in emotional depth.

Full Review… | November 14, 2008
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

Ballast lacks ballast. Much praised by aficionados of minimalist indie cinema -- hey, who needs a plot when you've got mood? -- it's a wearying slog through anomie in a Mississippi Delta township.

Full Review… | November 7, 2008
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

Worth seeing as an example of the lengths to which a filmmaker will go to establish his career - but don't ever mistake it for sociology.

Full Review… | August 15, 2011
East Bay Express

His brilliant "Ballast" was as much a hit in Seattle as it was at Sundance.

Full Review… | July 29, 2011

With debut director Lance Hammer admirably holding on to his core values in a way that directors too easy to deliver a crowd-pleaser do not, this is a fine, low-budget independent film...

Full Review… | May 12, 2011
Birmingham Post

Hammer manages to do enough with his actors and his nuanced script to make this exploration of the way even disparate people can provide stability for one another seem surprisingly engaging.

Full Review… | April 10, 2011

The opening half hour is electrifying, the ending interestingly open-ended...

Full Review… | March 22, 2011

A hugely impressive, distinctive directorial debut and a compellingly humanist window onto a layer of American society that mainstream cinema likes to pretend doesn't exist.

Full Review… | March 21, 2011

This airy, quiet meditation on the struggle of three people to transcend abject poverty and unexpected loss will likely play as too dialled-down for many tastes, but persevering with it will reveal a rare, peculiar mystical quality...

Full Review… | March 20, 2011
What Culture

Quite a debut here from writer-director Lance Hammer, working on a minuscule budget in the Mississippi Delta, and evoking a memorably forlorn kind of regional specificity.

Full Review… | March 18, 2011
Daily Telegraph

Naturalistic performances from a non-professional cast add to the austere integrity and touching humanity of this bleak tale.

Full Review… | March 17, 2011
Daily Express

This is a director who understands that a whisper can be as powerful as a shout, and in its own quiet way, Ballast is a stunning achievement.

Full Review… | March 17, 2011
The Skinny

A difficult, subdued film, but intelligent and with more intricacy and subtlety than at first appears.

Full Review… | March 17, 2011

Sags in the final third, but the impeccable craftsmanship keeps matters afloat.

Full Review… | March 17, 2011
Little White Lies

Hammer makes exceptional use of British cinematographer Lol Crawley's evocative imagery and Kent Sparling's visceral sound design...

Full Review… | March 17, 2011
Radio Times

Drugs, guns, attempted suicide. The Mississippi Delta is a watercolour landscape in duns and half-colours. Black poverty is turned over like the underside of the American dream.

Full Review… | March 17, 2011
Financial Times

It puts the 'blue' into bluegrass, but finds plenty of uplift and emotion too. Excellent.

Full Review… | March 14, 2011
Empire Magazine

Powerful, semi-improvised performances bring us closer to the isolated characters, who movingly earn themselves the possibility of redemption.

Full Review… | March 10, 2011
Total Film

Has the sparse purity of barren trees and the brutal intimacy of a broken vow.

Full Review… | February 20, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

... the cinematic equivalent of a miniature, a piece carved out of the stories of three troubled and damaged souls...

Full Review… | February 19, 2009
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The overall thrust of the story -- that downtrodden folks in desperate circumstances have the capacity for goodness -- is one too rarely seen.

Full Review… | December 5, 2008

Audience Reviews for Ballast

This movie is from Kino International which carries the best in world cinema. Its also a winner of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. As with most Films from Kino International this film is a little different from most, if your idea of a good movie is Batman, Superman, Talladega Nights or something else common to American movie theaters then you will not enjoy this movie, but if your a fan of something a little less common and different then you will enjoy this one as I did. This is about 3 lost souls in the Mississippi Delta who come together through a suicide. Worth every bit of 4 stars

Bruce Bruce

Super Reviewer


I liked the film a lot, but felt that there was something missing. So many things happen in the first half of the film that it;s a little jarring. As you keep watching, you understand why all those things happened, but the film moves at a much, slower pace. That was the thing that I liked about the film the most. It reverses the usual everything is good until the end where everything suddenly becomes terrible indie film plot and turns it on it's head. I will say that the actors (except for the mother character) are sub par, but it's understandable and it doesn't take anything away from the movie. The film looks gorgeous and I liked the ending, but I might have been expecting something different. Great use of Mississippi landscapes.

Tim Sigur

Super Reviewer


[size=3]"Ballast," the stunning and beautifully titled debut film from writer/ director [b]Lance Hammer[/b], attracted a lot of attention at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Thank heavens for Sundance. Without it, American films like this would never get seen. "Ballast" is a tour de force of hand-made, independent filmmaking. If it had more dramatic tension in its plot, it would be close to a masterpiece.[/size]


[size=3]At the 2008 festival, "Ballast" won much-deserved Directing and Cinematography awards. It was nominated for Best Feature but lost (no doubt narrowly) to Courtney Hunt's "Frozen River," which was released commercially earlier this year. The two films have a lot in common. Both are from first-time directors, both are set in rural America and focus on lower-class characters, and both have a deeply authentic, gritty aesthetic that makes the films seem almost like documentaries. [/size]

[size=3]The gritty aesthetic includes having so much texture that you can almost [i]smell[/i] the landscapes that form backdrops for the stories. Each film has an extraordinarily tangible sense of place. It's rare for first-time directors to demonstrate such command of the cinematic medium. Hopefully Hammer and Hunt will be making films for decades to come.[/size]

[size=3]In "Ballast," Hammer shows himself to be a master at capturing rural poverty. He also displays a real gift for working with non-professional actors. Especially remarkable is the performance he got out of a teenager named [b]JimMyron Ross[/b], who portrays a boy teetering on the edge of an abyss. Almost as remarkable is [b]Michael Smith[/b] as the boy's depressed but loving uncle. [/size]

[size=3]Ross and Smith appear to be non-professionals, while [b]Tarra Riggs[/b], playing the boy's mother, has other screen credits and appears to be classically trained. Oddly enough, it was she who gave the weaker performance. As is so often the case, non-professionals with magical innate skills bring an authenticity to the screen that the vast majority of trained actors simply have lost. Riggs was more than competent as the mother, but Ross and Smith gave me chills.[/size]


[size=3]The film opens with a catatonic man (Smith) sitting in his living room. Down the hall is a corpse. A neighbor, sensing something amiss, enters the home uninvited and finds the body. Five minutes later, there is a suicide attempt. Talk about a heavy opening sequence. Clearly we are meeting a very troubled family. [/size]

[size=3]Gradually we learn about the man who died, and we watch his family deal with the loss. The film is mostly concerned with the processes whereby survivors attempt to put their lives back together after a tragedy, with the aggravating circumstances of grinding poverty, low education, drugs and depression. "Ballast" is the first film I've seen take on the epidemic of male depression in America, and it does it in a pitch-perfect way. It also beautifully captures the loneliness of adolescents and the unique way they tend to communicate in actions instead of words. [/size]

[size=3]Perhaps the most unforgettable scene in "Ballast" involves the teenager intervening when he suspects that another suicide attempt is on the horizon. He lays the adults low without ever opening his mouth or overtly indicating that he cares about anyone. The depth of his silent caring is so profound it will break your heart. [/size]

[size=3]What is striking about Hammer's approach is that he can convey avalanches of emotion with almost no dialogue. This is one of the quietest films you'll ever see. Hammer and director of photography [b]Lol Crawley[/b] film the actors silently in a way that says it all. "Ballast" has some of the most impressive cinematography I've seen this decade.[/size]

[size=3]The film also is distinctive in its rejection of music. I don't believe there's a single moment in "Ballast" where music is used. This ultra-stark approach heightens the realism because no one in real life hears music swell up in the background when they feel something. The audience hears the silence around the characters as the characters themselves hear it. The lack of music especially hit me at the end. When a film is over, music always surges up to accompany the closing credits. Not so in this case. Rather awkwardly, my audience shuffled out of the theater in complete silence. I can't say that I loved this ultra-spartan approach, but I appreciated the chance to have an unusual cinematic experience. I consider it a courageous directorial move.[/size]

[size=3]The only downside to "Ballast" is that its quiet depiction of ordinary people doing ordinary things occasionally is tedious, especially in the second half. Depicting the boredom of everyday life is challenging. At times it's gripping because something poetic is captured in the realism. You see glimmers of someone's soul when watching him or her do ordinary things. But after a while, the charm wears off. In the second half of the film, this started to happen. It picks back up at the end, but the slack period was a bit too long.[/size]

[size=3]Also the central plot was not quite intense enough. If an extra story element had been added, the script would have come alive more. There was simply a bit too little going on in the story. That's why I had to bring down the film's rating from 8 to 7. But there is so much that is great about "Ballast" that it comes highly recommended. While imperfect, it is still one of the most important and enriching films of the year, and Hammer's debut as a filmmaker is a major event.[/size]

Bill D 2007
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer


[font=Century Gothic]"Ballast" starts with John (Johnny McPhail) checking on his neighbor Lawrence(Michael J. Smith Sr.), concerned since he has not opened his convenience store in the past few days. What he finds is the body of his brother, shortly before Lawrence tries to join him via a gun but luckily he survives and is eventually released from the hospital. But Lawrence has bigger problems than just his recovery like his nephew James(JimMyron Ross) owing $100 to drug dealers and robbing him at gunpoint. James' mother Marlee(Tarra Riggs) does not have any money to spare even after all the long hours she works.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"Ballast" is about the need for a father in a boy's life but this is very debatable and sometimes a present father can do more harm than an absent one. This is also a thoughtful movie and character study that could have been even better if it had done without the cliched gunplay of the first half. In situations like this, the threat of violence works best and allows a subtle tension to play out just beneath the surface. Anyway, the movie does eventually settle down, getting rid of the jump cutting in the bargain, dispensing information on the characters' lives in its own unique way and displaying rural Mississippi to its best advantage.[/font]

Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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