DVD Review - The Dynamiter

New actor William Ruffin in "The Dynamiter"
If you read the director's statement on the web site for this movie, Matthew Gordon says that there are various courses that could have been charted to depict life in the Mississippi town of Glen Allan. Yet, every direction always led back to the character of Robbie, a 14-year-old, hardened boy, essentially abandoned by his parents. For some reason, it became clear that Robbie needed to be the focus or center. The filmmaker seemingly fell in love with Robbie and through the way he crafts this movie, it's evident that he wants us to also fall in love with Robbie as portrayed by the man-like child, William Ruffin.

Matthew Gordon has a sense of place and an immersion in that place that mirrors David Gordon Greene's sense of place and outlook of children seen in George Washington (2000). Greene isn't as in love with his young star as Gordon is. Ruffin draws the attention of Gordon's camera and consumes its frame, as if Gordon believes he's the second-coming of Marlon Brando or something, and either to satisfy Ruffin's own vanity or to address the psychosexual issues in contention or in conflict, Gordon has Ruffin be constantly shirtless and sweaty.

Given its coming-of-age nature, addressing Robbie's sexuality is something that is probably necessary, but a comparable movie might be Winter's Bone (2010). Yet, I don't think that Debra Granik would have lingered on Jennifer Lawrence's half-naked body as Gordon lingers on Ruffin's shirtless self, which arguably is very muscular. The context of course is that for Robbie, it's a "Summer's Bone," a hot, June or July in Mississippi, so him being shirtless makes sense. It's the same context for Zac Efron's shirtlessness in The Paperboy (2012). This movie doesn't feel as exploitative as The Paperboy. Gordon isn't lusting after Ruffin in the way that Lee Daniels lusted after Efron. In fact, Robbie really isn't looking for romance or what a boy his age would consider romance. Aside from one forced situation, Robbie is rather asexual.

Like Winter's Bone, the underage protagonist in The Dynamiter has to care for his younger sibling. Gordon bookends the film with shots of Robbie playing with his little brother, Fess, portrayed by John Alex Nunnery. The shots are not as great as the children playing in The Tree of Life (2011), but, put against the scenes in the middle showing how Robbie is not only a brother but a father to Fess, those bookends are beautiful and heartbreaking in retrospect.

The relationship developed between Robbie and Fess is probably the best part of all the relationships. It makes the movie more akin to Leave It To Beaver but only if Wally spoke in a real, deeper voice, had a bit more grit and every other word was a swear word. Also, instead of a nice, Ohio, suburban home with two parents, Robbie and Fess have a rundown bungalow, a mute grandma and a womanizing, abusive older brother who is in a bit of a tailspin since losing his scholarship. His name is Lucas and he's played very well by Patrick Rutherford.

I'm not sure if Ruffin is that great of an actor or is merely on par with actors in his own age group. I think the boys in The Tree of Life or the star of The Kid With a Bike might be better. Yet, I think Ruffin shows a lot of potential here. If given good material, which screenwriter Brad Ingelsby does, and if given proper guidance, which director Matthew Gordon also provides, then Ruffin can shine. His line readings or narration may not always be that convincing, but there are quiet moments that Ruffin gets, which are fantastic.

Ruffin's overall presence is a strong one that's almost magnetic. His personality is also very strong, which despite his age or stature has him standing tall as a man. What's sad is that behind his chest puffing, Robbie is still a little boy chasing after a memory of a family that's been forever broken and he needs to accept that fact.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 14 mins.


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