Reviewed by Joanne Lewis: In WORKING MAN writer, director Robert Jury delivers a thoughtful, endearing movie that resonates with a deep understanding of the human spirit.
What happens when your work is your escape and the only thing that brings you peace is snatched away? That is the dilemma the main character Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) faces when he is told the factory where he has worked for over thirty is shutting down. This is a difficult blow for the workers since this is their livelihood in a town where work is already scarce.
However, the closing down of the factory does not stop Allery from packing his lunch box every day and sneaking into the factory. He spends his day cleaning the equipment and taking his lunch, content to still feel there is a purpose to his life. We can sense an undercurrent of emotional loneliness and anxiety from his wife Iola (Talia Shire), as she tries to dissuade him from his obsession to work. We can sense Iola pain of wanting to feel needed as she struggles internally yet staying the course as a loving and patient wife.
In the meantime, some of the neighbors (who also worked in the factory) observe him heading out every day and assume he is certifiably a nut job. Another ex-employee Walter Brewer (Billy Brown), notices the behavior and one day follows him to the factory and joins him as he works. Allery a quiet man is disconcerted and distrustful of Walter’s intrusion but ultimately an unlikely friendship develops that will change the landscapes of their lives. Soon the other workers get wind of the situation and show up at Allery’s door ready to head back to work. They take over the factory going against the corporate orders with Allery forced into becoming an unlikely hero.
You will find your self rooting for the success of the underdog especially in a world where corporations are not concerned about people but only profit. As Allery and Walter bond, secrets are revealed that will gave you a deeper appreciation for the men. When you care about the characters and can relate to their issues this adds a level of reality to the story and an emotional connection which leads to a true appreciation of the film.
When a filmmaker can take a quiet, unassuming man holding on to what he thinks defines him only to find himself again and becomes his own hero, I say that is a job well done.
I grew up in the rural American Midwest, so WORKING MAN has a lot in common with places and people I know, but it also reflects what’s currently happening and has already happened in a good chunk of working-class America and the rest of the globe. It’s a story that is set in a small, Rust Belt city where financial uncertainty and the fear of factory shut-downs are the norm. It is a place where many wonder what’s happened to the world they once knew.
A place where many feel forgotten.
By my own observations, a good number of factory towns seem frozen. They appear as though they’ve ground to a halt and have been time-stamped in connection with a period when the mills closed and prosperity ended. Mirroring that overcast pall, WORKING MAN’s laborers (leads played by the incomparable Peter Gerety and the brilliant Billy Brown) occupy spaces reminiscent of an earlier era. We’re introduced to people who are physically and emotionally captive. They are trapped in time.
While watching footage with WORKING MAN’s editing duo of Richard and Morgan Halsey, Richard observed, “This is like a movie I would’ve made in the 1970s.” That remark made me feel like we’d done something right. In 1976, Richard won an Academy Award for editing the film ROCKY – the same picture that earned the Best Actress Oscar nomination for our leading lady Talia Shire. I take no small amount of pride in the fact that WORKING MAN reunites these two formidable talents over forty years later – and in a film that harkens to a chapter of history when everything in industrialized America was about to change.
From script to screen, WORKING MAN has lived through its own version of a time capsule. Over the course of ten years, the project was selected for the Film Independent Screenwriting & Directing Labs in Los Angeles, then found its way to a devoted partner in Clark Peterson – producer of the Academy Award-winning film MONSTER. Ultimately, WORKING MAN met the generous, unwavering support of an angel investor, and arrived into the hands of three extraordinary and committed lead actors. Clark and I were also joined by two inspiring young producers, Lovell Holder (the award-winning SOME FREAKS) and Maya Emelle (the SXSW hit JINN), who signed on to the film alongside my good friend, EP Morgan R. Stiff, producing partner of noted director Tina Mabry.
I can’t imagine that our film could have landed in a more appropriate, relevant, or fitting age than the present. Considering the current political and social climate in our world, this story seems to be meshing with the moment. My greatest hope for WORKING MAN is to create a curiosity, a dialogue, and a meaningful connection with folks – regardless of personal beliefs or alliances. Loss, grief, recovery, and love are universal.
The time feels right.