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4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description


A double prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival and one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2008, Ballast is a stunningly evocative story of personal catastrophe and communal redemption. In the cold winter light of the Mississippi Delta, three lonely people stumble under the weight of a shared tragedy. Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith, Sr.) is paralyzed with grief after the loss of his twin brother. Twelve-year-old James (Jim Myron Ross) drifts into the perilous orbit of local teenagers while his single mother, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), is too exhausted from her menial job to interpret the clues. When sudden violence forces mother and son to flee their home in the night, they alight desperately on Lawrence s property. Though this provides safe harbor, it rekindles the fury of a bitter, longstanding conflict. Writer-director Lance Hammer and his gifted cast of local, non-professional actors have created an unflinching, profoundly humane story of lost souls forced by circumstance to seek solace in the most unlikely of places.

- Director supervised high-definition digital transfer from the 35mm interpositive.
- Ballast Scene Development - A 37-minute making-of feature charting the evolution of several scenes through the improvisational conflict sessions and two-month rehearsal process that gave form to the final film.
- Original theatrical trailer.
- Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.
- A new essay by film critic Amy Taubin.


4/4 Stars. (Ballast) inexorably grows and deepens and gathers power and absorbs us. I always say I hardly ever cry at sad films, but I sometimes do, just a little, at films about good people. --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

There isn t much talk and not a drop of cynicism in (Ballast), Lance Hammer s austerely elegant, emotionally unadorned riff on life and death in the Mississippi Delta. Shot with a sure hand and a cast of unknowns, the film doesn t so much tell a story as develop a tone and root around a place that, despite the intimate camerawork, remains shrouded in ambiguity. ...It s a serious achievement and a welcome sign of a newly invigorated American independent cinema. --Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

BALLAST has the heft and substance its name implies. A double prize winner at Sundance, this austere, rigorous film has a sense of place, a feeling for reality so compelling it makes us feel like we're living it, not just watching on a screen. --Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Micheal J. Smith, JimMyron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail
  • Directors: Lance Hammer
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Kino Lorber films
  • DVD Release Date: November 10, 2009
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002PSLXP6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,823 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Ballast" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Westley VINE VOICE on November 13, 2009
Format: DVD
"Ballast" is a small independent movie that was shot with primarily nonprofessional actors. Set in a rural area of the Mississippi Delta, the film focuses on Lawrence (Michael K. Smith, Sr.), a 30-something African-American man who lives on the same property as his twin brother. In the opening scene, a neighbor visits Lawrence, who is in a near catatonic state and won't respond; he's clearly experienced some kind of trauma. Slowly, we learn the back story and the relationships between the other characters who drift into the movie. This is a slice of life not often examined in movies - the realistic lives of poor African Americans in one of the most down-trodden areas of the country.

The movie is extremely low-key and slow paced. Likewise, the acting is often flat and doesn't always feel genuine (the extras show how the scenes were rehearsed and sometimes improved with the cast). However, "Ballast" overall does feel shockingly genuine, and even though it focuses on depressing issues the movie manages to be fairly uplifting without feeling manipulative. First-time director Lance Hammer has managed to tell an original American story that despite its pace is quite captivating. The film was nominated for and won various indie film awards, including a win at the Sundance Film Festival for Best Directing (Dramatic). "Ballast" reminded me a bit in tone and content of another recent indie hit, "Frozen River," and I think it will appeal to a similar audience.
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I was shocked at how much positive feedback this movie received. The acting was okay, the character development missing and what was there was bleak boring and un realistic. The blue and grey filter over everything is overdone, I see it all the time. The fact this movie was directed by a white person is almost borderline racist, and I feel that the entire character relationships reflect how a white middle class, privileged person would view this subject matter. I look to a movie like Mississipi Burning which really dives into the subject matter and take a stance as well as tells a story. Or the the movie Fresh, which deals with a similar premise however the plot of both of those movies is thoughtful, and worthy of a movie. This movie's plot really disappointed me. It may be realism or minimalism or whatever it is supposed to defend itself by grabbing on to but the story was very shallow. I felt the romance between the brother and his own twin brothers babes mother was predictable. Again a disappointing movie all around, sorry.
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Format: DVD
I rented Ballast due to all of the awards and glowing reviews. But I found it so ridden with clichés, stereotypes and implausibilities that I couldn't even suspend disbelief, much less bring myself to rave about it.

The minimalist plot centers around three characters: Marlee (Tarra Riggs), the single mother with a history of drug addiction; her troubled son James (JimMyron Ross), who dabbles with drugs and guns; and the boy's catatonically depressed uncle Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith). Although the setting of a poverty-stricken African-American family in the Mississippi Delta is unusual in film, the central plot is entirely conventional: Lonely souls brought together by tragedy. But mostly, we get long, sad and bitter silences. Even an excellent performance by Riggs cannot overcome the lack of character development; none of these three are multi-dimensional enough to elicit audience connection.

What little action does occur is implausible. One moment, a gang of dangerous drug dealers is set to kill James over a $100 debt; the next, these rogues have mysteriously disappeared and are never seen again. Equally inexplicable is the ending. The film suddenly just ends, in mid-stride.

After finding myself so uncharacteristically at odds with the mainstream accolades, I scoured the reviews to find anyone whose take was remotely similar to mine. I finally found film critic Armond White's review in the New York Press, which hit the nail on the head by calling Ballast "an African-American indie film fantasy made for white liberals":

"You have to see through these ludicrous black phantoms to the actual white middle-class fantasies at the film's core.... Ballast demonstrates exactly how movies condition knee-jerk responses to black pathology....
Read more ›
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Format: DVD
Like the debris of Hurricane Katrina scattered in the fields of this rural Mississippi setting, the lives of the three central characters of this wonderful film have been shattered by forces beyond their control. A mother tries to rescue her boy from the dangerous influence of some nasty drug dealers, while a man reels from the suicide of his twin brother, who is also her ex-husband. Under grim winter skies, the emotional distances between them - anger, fear, distrust, lost hopes - verge on despair and then careen away from disaster, as the three tentatively reach out to a resolution that involves each other.

It's an alarming and saddening portrayal of lives slipping through safety nets and, by a kind of miracle of circumstances and determination, saving themselves, one day at a time. Filmmaker Lance Hammer uses hand-held cameras and an elliptical style of editing to heighten the urgency in the characters' situations. Performances are restrained and remarkable, especially JimMyron Ross, who plays the boy with a sullen silence that betrays the terror and confusion that his character is trying to hide. The DVD includes three improvisational scenes in which the actors explore their characters' relationships. Deserves every award it has won.
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