Working Man

 

            Every day, Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) gets up and goes to work at the same job, in the same factory.  He operates a small machine that makes noise, but he doesn't wear ear protection.  Or eye protection.  But he does wear the company shirt, because he's proud of it.  It gives him a sense of belonging.

            He's been working there a long time, and is older than his co-workers, but he keeps to himself in the break room.  Every day he brings his thermos and lunch pail.  Every day, a powerdered sugar donut during the morning break, with coffee from the thermos.  Cold cut sandwich on white bread for lunch.  Then every day, he walks back home, to his quiet wife, Iola (Talia Shire).

            She fixes dinner, they eat it quietly, and then Allery goes for a walk.  He doesn't move that well, so it takes him most of the rest of the evening.  When he comes home, he goes right to bed.  Then he gets up the next morning and does the routine all over again.  As if he doesn't know how to do anything else. 

            Sometimes he's haunted by the same dream, where he goes outside, where it's cold, yelling for his son, but he can't find him.  It's a recurring nightmare that he doesn't talk about with Iola.  For her part, while he's at work, she goes to the cemetery, where their son is, and replaces the flowers with fresh ones.  She might also do a little grocery shopping.  But she doesn't seem any more social than he is.  It's a crushingly boring existence for both of them.

            But the change, when it comes, still turns their worlds upside down.  The plant is closing.  The workers are infuriated, because there really aren't any other jobs in town.  But they have no choice, other than to accept their small severance checks and shuffle away meekly, then sit on their small front porches and cry in their beer.

            Except the next morning, Allery gets up and goes to work, with his lunchpail and thermos, just like any other day.  He finds a way to get in the empty building, and finding the electricity off so he can't run his machine, he simply begins cleaning it with some supplies from the janitor's closet.  Then he starts sweeping the floor.  He takes his midmorning break, same chair, same donut.  He eats his cold cut sandwich at lunchtime.  And at the end of the day, he walks home again.  His wife asks him what he's doing, and he replies, simply, “Working.”

            When he shuffles to the factory the next day, one of his co-workers, Walter (Billy Brown), sees him, and follows him in, and tells him the idea is brilliant.  He says they can fill these orders and send them to their customers just like they used to do.  Walter makes a phone call to the utility company, and has the electricty turned back on, and now they're in business, happily working at their machines again.  The next day, more workers exuberantly join them, and Walter points to Allery as his inspiration.  Allery, quite unaccustomed to any attention from anyone, is suddenly the whole plant's folk hero.  The local television reporter even waits to get a quote from him (“All I want to do is go to work.”)  The plant is abuzz with workers sleeping on cots, working hard all day, then enjoying playing poker with each other for Skittles.

            No, it doesn't turn out quite the way you'd expect.  Nor do some of the characters.  But it's the kind of quiet, low-key, small-scale movie that feels like it's about real folks, and not just actors playing parts.  There's no glitz or glitter, nothing at all glamorous.  There's no sex, violence, nudity, or fancy CGI renderings.  No superheroes in spandex.  Just people that feel genuine.  And that's not a bad epitaph.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association