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Southern drama radiates authenticity
“The Dynamiter” will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Historic Yuma Theatre, 254 S. Main Street. The screening, part of the Arizona Western College Foundation's Thursdays at the Theatre, includes an independent short film and a hosted discussion. Language is English. Run time of the feature is 74 minutes; admission is $5.
“The Dynamiter” might seem an unlikely title for this low-key film about an unlikely hero, an adolescent boy who's been slipping through the cracks at school and who doesn't have two dimes to rub together. On the other hand, why should fireworks be only for the fortunate? Who's to say which of us feels our emotions more deeply, or deserves more credit for our accomplishments, however small they may appear from the outside?
What I did this summer
Robbie is a big-for-his-age 14-year-old who seems to like nothing better than to lead his pudgy 8-year-old half-brother, Fess, in medieval war games out in the fields next to the cypress swamp, with rolls of hay as the enemy.
Evidently he does have a troubled side. On his last day of eighth grade, he gets hauled into the office for rifling through lockers during recess. His school counselor cuts him a deal, though: If he writes an essay about himself over the summer, the incident won't go into his record. The stakes are high; after all, you can never outrace a bad name.
Evidently the idea is that, by reflecting on his actions and their causes, Robbie will raise himself above whatever is dragging him down. Indeed, the writing he does becomes a lucid and even poetic voiceover narration that weaves its way through the story.
Man of the house
What Robbie won't put in his essay is that his mother has run off and left him to take care of Fess — and Grandma Mamie, whose only activities are to smile serenely at whatever unfolds in front of her and to sip toothlessly on her soup, when she happens to get it.
Robbie knows that, if he tells anyone about the situation at home, the social workers will come and split up the family. For now he's holding out hope, bolstered by the occasional postcard that Mom sends from various locations, that someday they'll all be a family again.
Matters should improve with the return of older brother Lucas, the star high school quarterback who even played on scholarship for an Ivy League college, until he flunked out. But the best Lucas can manage for the family is to send Robbie out to find a job — leaving the house at the break of dawn to go wash windshields and clean toilets for the grouchy gas station owner out on the state road.
Robbie has every excuse to go bad. His father left before he was born. He's poor and looked down on at school because of it. His brother is a loafer who lives off of women in the most sordid of ways and who would even be happy to hit the road with Robbie so as to be a full-time role model.
“I was sinning before I was born,” sneers Lucas. And why should Robbie, without even the natural gift of athletics, turn out any better?
Robbie has been exhibiting self-destructive tendencies, such as showing up to a birthday party where a gang of preppie boys has promised to jump him, and then stealing from the hostess when she befriends him.
Off around the bend
“The Dynamiter” is the first feature film by its director, who has spent his career making documentaries, and the first acting role for its lead actor. This understated film captures the natural patterns of speech in a literally backwater spot on the American landscape, tucked up against a bend in the river in western Mississippi.
In leaving occasional key moments unexplained – just like life itself – the movie also celebrates the wonderful realism of randomness. Most importantly, it finds the potential for heroism in the most everyday challenges. And, in doing so, it makes the rare, essential point that the kid down the street who everyone has ignored all his life has the same feelings as any imaginary Hollywood hero.