In 2013, Bob Nelson earned an Oscar nomination for a gem of a character-driven comedy called Nebraska. It took about a decade for that one to make it to the screen, but, wasting no time, he is making his feature directorial debut — at nearly age 60! — with a new script, The ConfirmationIt might not be in the same league as Alexander Payne’s Best Picture Oscar nominee, but it is right up there with it, a wonderfully entertaining and wry slice of American life. Nelson’s screenplay is smart, funny and all-knowing, and his directorial debut right on the money.

pete hammond review badgeIf the film takes its time setting a tone of time and place, the overall effort is well worth the investment. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), it has its cinematic inspirations in such classics as Vittorio DeSica’s The Bicycle Thief , but for this touching and funny father/son story, I might also throw in something like Frank Capra’s 1959 Frank Sinatra vehicle A Hole in the Head. And at its center, The Confirmation features a Clive Owen performance that is one of his finest, and certainly most unexpected.

Owen plays Walt, a down-and-out blue-collar guy who is good with his hands and tool box and can fix just about anything except his own life. A alcoholic with an ex-wife (Maria Bello) who doesn’t trust him, he is still allowed to take his estranged 8-year-old son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) for the weekend while she and her current husband (Matthew Modine) go on a church retreat. But while he is in the local bar, his prized tool box is stolen from his car, setting in motion a wild adventure where father and son chase down several blind alleys in order to retrieve it. This, after all, is his livelihood, and somehow Nelson’s script makes it out to be the Holy Grail. Along the way they meet a colorful set of characters portrayed by a terrifically chosen supporting cast that includes Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson and a hilarious Patton Oswalt, who plays a meth-addicted drywall painter with a questionable list of suspects. Stephen Tobolowsky also turns up at the film’s beginning and end as the priest baffled by Anthony’s unique confessions.

Although this is far from what you would call a “faith based” movie like one of the week’s other new releases, Miracles From Heaven, it is a pure and poignant comic drama about a lot of things including faith that resonates on many levels, a great family story you won’t soon forget. Lieberher, also onscreen this week in Midnight Special, made his mark delightfully opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent and again uses his perfectly pitched deadpan delivery style to great effect opposite Owen. This kid is really one to watch.

You root for both these guys, and although the resolution isn’t pat or phony, it is one of hope for a feel-good film that knows exactly where its heart is. Nelson may have waited a long time to make a directorial debut, but I would say the guy has a bright future behind the camera. Saban Films releases the movie in 25 markets this weekend, as well as on iTunes and on demand.

Do you plan to see The Confirmation? Let us know what you think.