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Review: Indie drama ‘Working Man’ veers off course despite strong performance by Peter Gerety

Peter Gerety in the movie 'Working Man'
Peter Gerety in the movie “Working Man.”
(Brainstorm Media)

At this peculiar moment in history, when 30 million U.S. workers have lost their jobs in the past two months and millions more (the fortunate) work from home, sheltering in place, there is something terribly poignant about watching a man pack his lunch and amble several blocks to his post at a plastics manufacturing plant. That he continues to do so even after he is laid off and the plant has shut down only piques our interest.

Such is the setup of writer-director Richard Jury’s “Working Man,” a low-key film that begins as a quiet meditation on the dignity of labor before regrettably pivoting to less subtle melodrama, but it’s grounded throughout by a terrific performance from veteran character actor Peter Gerety.

In a small Rust Belt town (the movie was shot in Chicago and Joliet, Ill.), Gerety’s Allery Parkes and his coworkers lose their jobs at New Liberty Plastics. Allery, however, reports to the shuttered plant each day and finding the power turned off, sets himself to cleaning the machinery. He stubbornly sticks to his routine, taking his morning coffee break, eating his lunch alone in the staff room, before shuffling home at the end of the day.

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We’ve seen similar scenarios, notably in Laurent Cantet’s 2001 film “Time Out,” where a man pretends to go to work when he is too proud to admit he has lost his job. But here, Allery, past retirement age, continues apace in full view of his bewildered neighbors (who also happen to have been his coworkers) and devoted wife Iola (Talia Shire), not out of shame but because he must work.

The question of why recedes into the background after several twists take the story in other directions, only to return as part of an ending that ties things up a little too neatly. Those turning points forefront Allery’s colleague Walter, played by Billy Brown, a charismatic figure who proves to be the fulcrum upon whom these events hinge, but cost the movie some of its well-earned authenticity.

Once the movie shifts gears, it’s less about the working man and more about the human. That sounds like a good thing, but the further “Working Man” creeps into emotionally over-calibrated basic cable territory, the less real it feels.

‘Working Man’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Available on VOD

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