(2008)4.5Bruce EderLance Hammer's debut feature, Ballast, has a storyline -- it has narrative momentum, and pacing (exquisite pacing, in fact), and all of the other requirements that a dramatic film should possess. And Hammer has handled these elements of his film with the delicacy of an accomplished filmmaker. But where Ballast succeeds on a level that shoots right off the charts is in matters of tone -- visual tone, to be sure, but also in the larger ambient sense. Using a cast of non-professional actors who give performances that you probably couldn't buy for a million dollars per performer from professionals, Hammer and his camera capture an essence of the setting that attracted him, the barren, beautiful heart of the Mississippi Delta. The mix of long, languid exteriors, the close intimate drama of the four principal players (five if you count the wonderful but unobtrusive canine Juneau), and the natural sound throughout end up yielding the visual equivalent of a Debussy or Delius orchestral tone poem, or a Turner landscape painting -- except that this movie does tell a story that moves forward at precisely the right pace, with finely nuanced performances from all concerned. Indeed, this is the kind of movie for which one would not only wish eventually to own a DVD edition, but also a photo book of stills, of actual shots and settings. And one must interrupt the well-deserved praise for Hammer and his crew to add that the movie is worth seeing for the work of Jim Myron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail, and especially Michael J. Smith Sr. as Lawrence, the survivor of a family tragedy. Professional actors work for years to achieve what they all do in this movie, and audiences should treat themselves to their work, as well, on top of that of Hammer's vision and accomplishment.