THE CONFIRMATION doesn't whip up anything you haven't tasted before, but like a home-cooked meal, its warmth and consistency make up for any missing spiciness. A sweet, gentle riff on Bicycle Thieves, it's the directorial debut of screenwriter Bob Nelson; like his Nebraska, it's a father-son story told with streaks of bleak humor. The Confirmation's father (Clive Owen) is a troubled-but-decent ex-alcoholic who's watching his rambunctious-but-perceptive son (Jaeden Lieberher), while mom (Maria Bello) goes away for the weekend to a Catholic marriage retreat with her new husband (Matthew Modine). Dad and son amble through the blue-collar suburbs south of Seattle, looking for tools that were stolen out of dad's truck. They fight! They bond! They become closer than ever over the course of one crazy weekend!
Actually, The Confirmation is pretty good at navigating these reheated clichés, thanks to a script that's bound in realism and Nelson's directorial restraint. A persistent Pacific Northwest drizzle permeates the mood, with sorrow and regret running beneath the text. But Owen and Lieberher work marvelously well together, and their characters' mutual affection feels natural and unstrained, offering a measured counterbalance of optimism that lifts the film.
The supporting cast is solid, too, with Patton Oswalt as a chatty meth head, Robert Forster as a kindly family friend, Tim Blake Nelson as a sketchy tradesman, and Stephen Tobolowsky as a beleaguered priest. But the heart and soul of The Confirmation belong to Owen and Lieberher. It's downright nice to see a movie where a kid and parent seem to genuinely enjoy being in each other's company, and where they don't continually lie to one another in order to further the plot. The conflict in The Confirmation—what little there is—is unforced and incidental, making this slight, subtle movie a low-key pleasure.