Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger thought the Weebles treehouse was idyllic. But then those Weeble pirates came in with their gangplanks and firearms...and the peace was shattered forever.
No one can drift forever.
Filmgoers love to watch a perfect characterization. When an actor subsumes himself completely into the character, as writer-actor Ken Marino does in Diggers, it invigorates our movie watching experience. The rest of the film is pretty good to boot, which makes Diggers a safe bet for fans of character-based independent drama.
Facts of the Case
It is 1976 in a small town on the shore of Long Island. A conglomerate has
claimed all of the best clam beds, leaving the local diggers in dire straits.
Four of them struggle to get by while keeping their personal lives intact:
Their four loves are:
Though none of them are tabloid headliners, the cast assembled for Diggers is accomplished. Each actor has a secure present and future in Hollywood. Paul Rudd and Maura Tierney are the biggest names, though you'll probably recognize all of them. And like the cast of That '70s Show, this cast has a ball nailing the disco decade in a pitch-perfect portrayal. Granted, Diggers offers a more serious take, paying particular attention to the sexism, machismo, reticent subservience, and outbursts of feminine frustration that marked the sexual politics of the day. But humorous touches are here too, such as Weebles clogging the toilet drain. Diggers is worth its run time for its flashback potency alone.
Though the cast is arguably on the same page, its clear that Ken Marino is the heart and soul of Diggers. He dominates every scene he's in; not only through sheer physical presence, but for his outrageous combination of violent profanity, humor, intelligence, and stubborness. Lozo is the alpha male, the Dad you listen to—or else. Yet he turns on a dime. One moment he's screaming at his wife because one of the kids opens the bathroom door while he's manning the throne; the next moment, he's laughing for her to get the camera. Lozo is a force—a working man's Yogi Berra—and Ken Marino makes him real. His ownership of the role and the screen is complete.
For fans of The State, Ken's feature writing debut is most welcome. Though Marino has had more appearances than Michael Ian Black since The State, Black's roles seem somehow more secure. With lengthy gigs on Stella and Ed, Black has made the most of his character roles while Marino has drifted from series to series. But no one who loves The State has any doubt of Marino's abilities. With Diggers, he adds insightful script writing and heavy drama to a resume that included looks and great comedic timing.
As for the heavy drama, Diggers is dire with just enough levity to keep it moving along. Though he works through feelings of inadequacy and rage, Rudd never completely sheds his nice-guy, romantic-comedy pedigree; the twitch of a smile lurks behind his streetfights and public indecency. Ron Eldard is more believable as the depraved womanizer with a heart, dishing attitude with authority. His unguarded moments with Gina work because of his bluster elsewhere. Maura Tierney gives Gina a great '70s attitude, though I was never sure where her character arc was going. Again, Marino sets the pace: Lozo's desperate fear and unbridled rage seem genuine, and we truly fear what he'll do.
This drama is supported by claustrophobic cinematography that highlights the opressive emotion in the film. Grimy docks, salty boats, dark hotel rooms, and bars that seem like jail cells box in the characters. Flat, gray water consumes the screen. Director Katherine Dieckmann makes the most of the cast and the location, selling her theme of 1970's-era desperation with authority.
In the extras, Dieckmann and Marino reveal a practiced spin on the movie. They hit the same points in the commentary and in an interview with film critic Robert Wilonsky. The commentary is a prototypical independent film commentary with lots of budget gripes, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and jokes from Ken. Though the interview is pretty dull, it beats the pants off of the dry documentary Baymen, which is academic and droning. Rounding out the extras is an extensive battery of deleted scenes that fit very well with the feature but have obvious reasons for exclusion. There's almost a feature film just in the deleted scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though the cast is great and the vibe of the piece works, Diggers tells an oft-told story. In fact, I spent much of the film wondering when the twist was coming, something to upset the carefully established arc of a sensitive artist trapped in a working class neighborhood. I didn't expect Hunt to erupt into Godfather-like violence, but I was expecting the plot to deviate from its obvious path. Also, most of the character arcs are underexplored, with the characters staying about the same from opening to end. When Hunt comes to terms with his guilt and makes his decision, it is anticlimactic.
Diggers looks good and enjoys a competent transfer, though I detected a greenish cast that made some of the skin tones rather sickly. Otherwise the film looks great. The soundtrack is not dynamic; a flat sonic field saps some of the energy created onscreen. Even so, accomplished composer David Mansfield does a fine job of setting the mood while several classic tunes seal the deal.
By the time Diggers wraps, you've been taken on a fond ride through memories of 1970s, working-class strife. The director and cast observe details with enthusiasm, particularly Ken Marino. If the story isn't particularly involving and the characters sometimes bland, inspired acting and directing will still warm your heart and engage your mind—especially if you remember the '70s.
Let the diggers out of their cells; fishing is hard enough work as it is.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
• Commentary with director Katherine Dieckmann and writer Ken Marino
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