Cinema Signal:

How to Find, Catch, and Cook Them
(In paperback from Amazon)
. "Diggers"

This highly personal character study benefits from well-observed human behavior and is limited by the modesty of its boundaries. It's the latter that will keep the appeal of the movie within the arthouse sphere where it will be accepted as an unpretentious, unambitious bit of storytelling.

Hunt (Paul Rudd) is one of those "diggers" the title refers to, men who have fished their Long Island bays for clams, an activity that requires a long handled rake-like implement to find clams out of the bottom sand and bring them to the surface. This manner of making a living is one passed down from generation to generation, as Hunt's father has done with Hunt.

But, Hunt isn't exactly pleasing his weather-worn old man when he ignores the early alarm and doesn't join him for the day's work until later. But this is a day without the sameness that characterized all the ones before it. By the time Hunt gets out to the clam grounds, Dad has died from an apparent heart attack.

Hunt's buddies do what they're inclined to for him by way of support but other issues loom on the economic horizon. Mainly, it's a challenge to their accustomed livelihoods for the diggers when a rich conglomerate buys up water rights and seals the town clammers off from access to their most productive holes.

Hunt and sister Gina (Maura Tierney) console each other as they slowly accept the reality of their new circumstances. Hunt is seriously considering selling dad's boat and giving up this life when Zoey (Lauren Ambrose), the girl he's been flirting with as he runs up and down the channel, turns into a relationship. The chemistry seems to Hunt to have considerable promise, but the vicissitudes of clamming have nothing on the cold water she splashes on the romance. No fairy tale endings here.

Writer Ken Marino's story follows Lozo (Ken Marino) and wife Julie (Sarah Paulson) in a sorrowful subplot in which the growing threats to their income exacerbates his contemptuous way with his family. He's a bull in a china shop, with the china being the sensitivities of his wife and kids.

While this is evolving, Hunt's friend Jack (Ron Eldard), an incorrigible womanizer, is filling in the emotional and sexual needs in Gina's life, bringing on Hunt's wrath. But the exploitation aspect comes down to a serviceable mutuality, which it takes a long time and a fight for Hunt to realize and accept.

The picture is sprinkled with enough low key behavior and adaptation to modest circumstance to dig out a sense of reality, suggesting that something like this may have come from the writer's past. At the same time, no risk is taken that might elevate the dramatic level to something more adventurous and memorable.

Looking as though this material is made for him, Rudd turns in a sympathetic performance for the central character with the generally modest demeanor of a good guy. Tierney brings warmth and straightforward honesty to her role, as well, easily drawing concern and admiration.

That it's all on a humble level is a dual edged sword of justification for the effort, but those who aren't looking for heightened emotional or physical fireworks, special effects and violence will come out of the theater well-rewarded.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The clam digger boys of Long Island.

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