'Working Man': Film Review | Santa Barbara 2019

Courtesy of Workingman Partners, LLC
Potent tribute to out-of-work Americans.

This timely drama about factory closures in the Rust Belt features a strong cast of veteran actors, including Peter Gerety, Billy Brown and Talia Shire.

The plight of people living in the Rust Belt — many of whom helped to determine the results of the 2016 election — is at the center of Robert Jury’s affecting drama Working Man, which received its world premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Although the film is probably a tad too leisurely to find a major distributor, it deserves attention for the fine performances at the center of this well drawn canvas.

Veteran actor Peter Gerety (who has numerous credits in theater, film, and television) plays Allery Parkes, a factory worker who learns in the opening scene that the plant where he has worked for decades is closing. Besides the loss of income, Allery is confounded by the loss of his comfortable routines; he has no idea how to spend his days if he is not working. So he decides that the only solution is to pack his lunch and return to the shuttered plant and go through the motions of working. At first his wife (Talia Shire), his neighbors and co-workers are bemused and bewildered by his somnambulistic adherence to his workaday patterns. Then they become more concerned, and eventually several of them decide to join him at the desolate factory, dreaming that they might be able to persuade the owners to re-open the business.

Allery finds a strong ally in an African-American neighbor, Walter (played by Billy Brown, known for his role in the hit TV series How to Get Away with Murder), a newer member of the community who becomes an even stronger advocate for action against the factory’s owners. Walter’s volatility adds a jolt of electricity to the film, which moves along too sluggishly in the first half.  Gradually we learn that Walter is a more complex character than the other townspeople realize, and the drama intensifies.

Shire as Allery’s wife Iola also seems an overly passive character in the movie’s first half, but as family secrets are revealed, Iola becomes less of the meek housewife that she appeared to be and turns into a more assertive character. Shire, known for her roles in the Godfather and Rocky films, has been less visible in recent years, but she has a great speech in the second half of Working Man that reminds us of what we’ve been missing.

All of the cast members — including J. Salome Martinez, Kirsten Fitzgerald, and Bobby Richardson — add verisimilitude. Some of these actors were found in the Chicago area, where the film was shot.  One of these local actors, Patrese McClain as Walter’s ex-wife, has a cameo late in the film that adds special punch to the film.

The sense of place is well captured by cinematographer Piero Basso and production designer Sarah Sharp. Morgan Halsey’s editing in the first half falters, but it gains urgency in the more compelling second half of the picture. (At 108 minutes, the film seems overlong and might benefit from 10 or 15 minutes of trimming.) Despite its flaws, fine acting by both veterans and newcomers, along with an extremely timely subject, give the film a pungent flavor.

Cast: Peter Gerety, Talia Shire, Billy Brown, J. Salome Martinez, Patrese McClain

Director-screenwriter: Robert Jury

Producers: Clark Peterson, Robert Jury, Maya Emelle, Lovell Holder

Executive producers: Tim Ranzetta, Katherine Eslao, Morgan R. Stiff, Lee V. Stiff

Director of photography: Piero Basso

Production designer: Sarah Sharp

Costume designer: Halley Sharp

Editor: Morgan Halsey

Music: David Gonzalez

No rating, 108 minutes