Producers: Clark Peterson, Robert Jury, Maya Emelie and Lovell Holder Director: Robert Jury Screenplay: Robert Jury Cast: Peter Gerety, Talia Shire, Billy Brown, J. Salome Martinez, Patrese McClain, Ryan Hallahan, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Bobby Richardson Distributor: Brainstorm Media
With the plight of the unemployed now growing exponentially, this modest parable about how workers try to cope with the shutdown of their Rust Belt plastics factory has timeliness on its side. What “Working Man” doesn’t have, however, is realism. This is a fable, pure and simple; but it’s a good-hearted one.
It also provides a rare starring role for Peter Gerety, a fine character actor who has graced many supporting roles in films and television. He plays Allery Parkes, whose whole life seems to have revolved around his job. He’s a reserved, taciturn fellow who moves slowly and speaks rarely, and his wife Iola (Talia Shire) is caring but seems beaten-down by circumstances and frightened at anything new. The reason behind the couple’s attitude, it will eventually be revealed, is the grief they share over a tragedy in their past, hinted at in an opening sequence but fully fleshed out later on.
On the factory’s last day of operations, Allery lingers after the closing bell, finishing up what he’s doing even though, as someone remarks, he won’t be paid any overtime. Trudging home, he finds himself lost, with nothing to fill his time but the occasional meal with Iola. Then he decides to go back to the closed-down factory as if still on the job, carrying his banged-up lunchbox and thermos along the same route he’d taken for years. He breaks into the plant and returns to his spot on the production line, stopping at the usual time for lunch in the break room before walking home for dinner at the usual time. He follows the same ritual every day, except presumably on the weekends; the script doesn’t really consider what he does during those breaks, nor what he did on them prior to the shutdown.
Iola is understandably concerned about Allery’s conduct; she even calls a clergyman to talk with him, though it does no good. His neighbors, all laid off as well, look on incredulously, except for Walter Brewer (Billy Brown), the newcomer next door, who offers to get Allery back into the factory—from which the management and cops have ejected him—with a set of master keys he’d previously made. He then sets to work contacting old customers to renew contracts the factory had with them.
The duo’s regular trips to the plant catch the eye of the other fired workers, and they return to the factory as well. Soon the operation is humming again, much to the distress of the owners, especially after the media get involved, making Allery a homespun hero. There’s a Capra-esque feel to this section of the movie, with its joy in the triumph of the little man, as well as a critique of the sort of capitalism that can’t see beneath the bottom line. The warmth quotient is increased by Iola’s gradual thawing of her initially icy attitude toward Walt, and her growing support of what the workers are doing.
Of course, that halcyon vision can’t go on forever. The smarmy young corporate man overseeing the closure (Ryan Hallahan) works to derail the problem by bringing in Walt’s ex-wife Cecilia (Patrice McClain) to tell Allery some unsettling truths about Walt, and adds a few troublesome revelations of his own. But while the takeover of the plant—which is, after all, what’s happened—can’t continue, Allery’s life, and his relationship with Iola, are rejuvenated through the experience, and his friendship with Walt has been forged.
“Working Man” benefits from Robert Jury’s sharply observed dialogue and unhurried direction, and from the authenticity of the Chicago-area locations (the factory scenes were shot at the Makray Manufacturing plant in Norridge, a plastics-molding operation that, ironically, shut down late in 2019; the picture alters the suburb’s name to Orridge). Sarah Sharp’s production design, Piero Basso’s cinematography and Morgan Halsey’s editing all contribute to the genuine feel and easygoing pace. The only jarring note comes from David Gonzalez’s score, which is not only too insistent but often too irritatingly bubbly.
But the film’s great strength lies in the acting. Gerety is absolutely superb. In many of his previous performances he’s been volatile, even hysterical; here he’s beautifully restrained, conveying with the gentlest glance or barely whispered word Allery’s interior life. One needs to watch closely to appreciate the nuance in his work, but the effort pays off handsomely.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Brown, who brings a commanding presence and powerful delivery to his performance as a man determined to lead. Yet he can also exude charm when required, as in his lovingly rendered dinner scene with Allery and Iola, and most of his one-on-ones with Gerety.
The supporting cast is credible down the line, but special mention is due the men’s two very different wives. Shire adds quiet shadings to the recessive, almost reclusive Iola, while McClain, in her own way, is as dominant as Brown in her single scene as a woman of very conflicted feelings.
“Working Man” is reminiscent of movies of the seventies, which often dealt with the problems of the “ordinary” people usually overlooked in today’s Hollywood product. But it might also call to mind “little man” pictures of the fifties—like “Marty,” for instance. In either case, it’s a breath of fresh air in our era of superhero blockbusters and overblown action pictures—or would be, if that age were still continuing unimpeded—if theatres were not closed and summer releases delayed.