Los Angeles Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | July 19, 2011
Director: Matthew Gordon
Writers: Matthew Gordon, Brad Ingelsby
Starring: John Alex Nunnery, William Patrick Ruffin, Patrick Rutherford, Ciara McMillan, Sarah Fortner
The ramshackle old cottage in the back woods of Mississippi where Fess (John Alex Nunnery) and Robbie (William Patrick Ruffin) live with their aged grandmother is almost identical to the homes in Winter’s Bone and Two Gates of Sleep.
Twenty-plus miles from town, we meet 14-year-old Robbie as he frolics in a field near his home teaching his younger half-brother, Fess, how to battle hay bales with hand-carved spears and knives. Left to their own devices, things do not seem all that bad for the two footloose and fancy-free young lads. The boys lack any adult supervision, their absentee mother is reportedly in California nursing some sort of mental breakdown while their seemingly senile grandmother (Joyce Baldwin) utters nary a syllable as her glassy-eyes stare blankly; and who knows or cares where their fathers are. Robbie is not adverse to thievery when he and Fess need something to eat and the brothers have mastered the manipulation of small change in order to coax Cokes from a gas station vending machine.
Robbie stands out at school as a sweaty and smelly white trash kid and he has a difficult time staying out of trouble. It is the end of his eighth grade term and he is hauled into office of the Principal (Layne Rodgers) for stealing. Plagued by failing grades, the principal offers Robbie a ticket to high school: Robbie must write an essay over the summer; if the essay is deemed well-written, he will graduate eighth grade and proceed to high school. In turn, Robbie pens a series of letters which he reads aloud via voice-overs throughout the remainder of the film.
Out of the blue, Lucas (Patrick Rutherford), a sibling ten years Robbie’s senior, appears back at home. In his prime, Lucas was a star high school quarterback; he has since d-evolved into low-life parasite who dates women who are naive enough to support him. Whenever Lucas is unable to find a willing female host to suck dry, he goes home to clear his mind. Robbie worships his older brother, so when Lucas instructs Robbie to find a job in order to support their family, Robbie jumps to task. Robbie thus begins waking up at the (ass)crack of dawn in order to work a shit-job at a local gas station for a measly wage.
Robbie eventually discovers that Lucas is not worth idolizing. It also becomes increasingly obvious that the boys’ mother is never coming home. Worst of all, there is an ever-looming threat that social services will become cognizant of the lack of adequate adult supervision in the household. Forced to grow up much earlier than most boys, Robbie must take these burdens and responsibilities by the horns in a last-ditch attempt to retain his and Fess’ freedom.
Writer-director Matthew Gordon’s The Dynamiter personifies the struggles of the poor as they attempt to claw their way up from their non-existent income bracket. Robbie is destined to remain poor because of his failure in the education system, his family history and lack of a support structure at home. His only chance to escape this poverty is to leave town and start over somewhere else. The inherent class conflict becomes most apparent during Kissy’s (Sarah Fortner) graduation party. Just like at school, Robbie stands out like a sore thumb. Kissy has a crush on Robbie but he seems to recognize that the caste system would never allow them to come together. Instead, Robbie befriends a poor black girl, Mamie (Ciara McMillan) — it is worth noting that her race never factors into the equation. Both kids have been beaten down and have the bruises to prove it; together they are looking for a way out of their current predicament.