Allery Parkes has reached the “routines” stage of life.
He gets up at the same time, puts on his work shirt, has his breakfast, loads the same canned-meat sandwich into his lunchbox and methodically, slowly, walks to work.
Marriage? He and Iola have their own routines, a post-affection relationship of few words, one that’s endured for decades.
The factory’s old. And so is the man running the press that stamps out small plastic spacers that fit in plastic drawers in plastic storage cabinets.
And then the young guy “from corporate” shows up with everybody’s “last check.” What’s a “Working Man” to do?
Writer-director Robert Jury’s made an intimate portrait of rust belt decline, a movie steeped in a funereal gloom, but built on a stoic, compelling lead performance by veteran character actor Peter Gerety, most recently a regular on “Ray Donovan” and “Sneak Pete” on TV.
It’s a too-familiar story told in an over-familiar way. What does life hold for someone after the central organizing principle of that life ends? For a lot of working men, that’s the job, not family.
“You need to work to feel like you’re worth something” isn’t the most original take on this. But it’s practically the longest sentence Allery utters in “Working Man.”
Talia Shire of the “Rocky” movies plays the concerned wife who wonders why Allery maintains his routine the day after New Liberty plastics shuts down. It just takes her a couple of days of watching him silently dress, prep lunch and trudge out the door before she asks “Is everything all right?”
Being an old-timer, he’s got a secret way of slipping back into the plant. But Allery can’t do his old job. The power’s off. So he starts cleaning.
This boarded-up corner of Chicagoland is filled with neighbors who once were colleagues. Not that Allery ever associated with them. He ate his lunches alone, didn’t show up for the “last check” line, didn’t say anything to the boss who came up at the end of the day (everybody else had left the job) to hand him that check.
But those co-workers gossip and wonder “What the hell is he doing?” every morning as Allery passes. Eventually one, “the new guy,” Walter (Billy Brown of “How to Get away with Murder”), follows him and figures it out.
And Walter’s paid attention. He knows how the place ran. He can get the power back on.
That clinging to one’s guiding purpose story isn’t really what drives “Working Man.” There are layers to peel away to show Allery as he is. Iola knows, but can’t bring herself to speak. Her arranging a surprise visit from Pastor Mark doesn’t help.
And even Walter can’t get much out of the man he starts spending his days with, but has to pick up pieces of his puzzle from the other folks who barely know Allery.
It’s an intimate, well-acted story told in a “film festival” movie, the sort of small-stakes/small-scale production that collects awards from audiences comprised of film buffs.
Don’t come to “Working Man” for its surprises. This theme has been explored in classic films since the silent era (Murnau’s “The Last Laugh”), films from many countries and cultures.
But its message is well-worth repeating in a time of economic upheaval. And the example it sets for indie filmmakers — tell a story that’s about something important, create compelling characters and flesh out that cast with under-used character players who never land leads — make “Working Man” a reminder of what dramatic independent cinema was always supposed to be, and could be again.
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: Peter Gerety, Billy Brown, Talia Shire
Credits: Written and directed by Robert Jury. A Brainstorm Media release.
Running time: 1:49