Box art for Ballast


  • Rated NR


A single mother and her embattled son struggle to subsist in a small Mississippi Delta township. Acts of violence thrust them into the world of an emotionally devastated highway store owner.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

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    reviews counted: 26
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  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews


- Andrew O'Hehir,, Tuesday, July 6, 2010


- Ben Kenigsberg, Time Out, Friday, November 18, 2011

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

- Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, November 14, 2008

Audience Reviews

3 stars

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]img]]/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] img]] 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]

- dunmyer, Saturday, November 1, 2008

3 stars

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]

- gator681, Tuesday, October 21, 2008

4 stars

Very difficult film to find which is unfortunate. The relationships are real and moving. One can imagine so many families living on the edge of povery in this type of a reality. Will they find satisfaction in life? Hard to say. I didn't cry like Roger Ebert but I was moved.

- fb721890245, Thursday, April 15, 2010