Talk about timely: Robert Jury’s directorial debut, Working Man, is a notably relevant film for these pandemic times. Shot in 2018, this story of yet another factory shutdown in America’s Rust Belt becomes a strangely cathartic odyssey of loss and redemption, and a necessary balm for the uncertainty that envelopes us now. As the struggle against the Coronavirus shut down businesses across the world, we were all – and many still are – at a loss. What to do now? A job can be part of your identity but it can also save your sanity.
As ‘be kind to each other’ has become a daily rallying cry for empathy and understanding, it’s uncanny to watch a film that mines these very depths. Reclusive Allery (played with brilliant penetrating subtlety by Peter Gerety) is haunted by demons tamed by the very routine of his factory job. He and his wife, Iola (Talia Shire in a familiar role as a long suffering wife), exist in this vague realm of living – if you can call it living – where they barely function individually, never mind together. Avery is pretty much non-verbal, and even with the factory’s closure, he simply picks up his lunchbox every morning and goes to work.
At the outset, this return to daily routine is a bit startling, and takes on absurdist overtones – think Samuel Beckett’s mix of bleakness and black humour – as we watch a man we don’t yet understand repeat this brutally inexplicable pain-filled pattern. This spell over Avery is only broken when a neighbour, Walter (a mesmerizing Billy Brown in a multi-layered performance of great nuance), offers a surprising response. Walt’s solution makes sense, even though it’s clear that something’s not quite right. Not in the real world anyway.
But this filmmaker is thankfully most interested in psychological truth rather than any nods to realism. Unfortunately as screenwriter, Robert Jury does include some clunky clichéd dialogue but Jury the movie director proves to be quite adept at saving Working Man from the dust heap of maudlin melodrama.
Working Man succeeds as allegory, a profound testament to the resilience of everyday people and the very real challenges in their daily lives. The film is blessed with a powerhouse ensemble cast, with each actor’s energy ebbing and flowing into a mix where they feed off each other.
By honouring these deeply felt performances, the director instills the film with a necessary subtlety and grace – one that speaks volumes about the walking wounded in our midst, those who eventually find a way to come together to heal. Working Man is a film that might not feed your mind so much as it invigorates your soul.
Working Man will be available on VOD on July 17