Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/24/07 20:33:59

"Not exactly buried treasure, but still a decent find."
3 stars (Just Average)

"Diggers" is a nice little movie with a pretty decent cast, and I bet that it's peppered with memories from writer Ken Marino's childhood. It's a fairly well-done working man's drama that will resonate with a big chunk of its audience, and even those that don't love it will at least like it.

The diggers of the title are Long Island clammers, and in 1976 things weren't going so well for the individual clamdigger whose family had been doing it for generations: Money is tight, yields are down, and a corporation has purchased exclusive rights to the best waters. It's little wonder Hunt (Paul Rudd) is only doing it because he's known little else; he certainly doesn't want to die on his boat like his father just has. It's a harsh blow to Hunt and his sister Gina (Maura Tierney), but life goes on. For Hunt, that means taking Polaroids of the man-made landscape and meeting Zoey (Lauren Ambrose), a pretty summer resident. For Gina, it's making a connection with Hunt's friend Jack (Ron Eldard) when he comes to help her with repairs on her now-empty house. Then there's Lozo (Ken Marino), whose wife Julie (Sarah Paulson) tells him she is pregnant again just as vandals rip the motor from his boat.

It's easy to be cynical about having seen every bit of this movie before, especially since there aren't that many new twists to it. The corporation is bad in principle and callous in action, Hunt's father will have always gruffly said he should leave photography to the photographers but keep one of his son's pictures for Hunt to find after the old man's death, and a blow-up is almost inevitable once Hunt makes the discover that Jack is sleeping with a thirty-six year-old woman who is perfectly capable of making of making her own decisions. That's all expected, and there's nothing particularly wrong with doing what's expected, if it does that well.

Which Diggers manages for the most part. It's got a nice eye for detail; I like when movies show the audience how to do something, even if it's something as simple as using a tool to dredge clams up from the seabed. Its a small thing, but it connects us to the characters in a very basic way. Director Katherine Dieckmann and her crew recreate a 1970s fishing in a way that never seems limited; if feels like she can move her camera anywhere without having to worry about hitting an anachronism (though that kind of village never changes that much anyway). There is an austere beauty to Hunt's photos.

Sometimes, though, Dieckmann and Marino hit things a little too hard. They spend a little too much time reminding us that the film takes place in 1976, for instance: There's a throwaway comment about that year's Olympics that really should be enough toward the beginning, but it seems like there's something less subtle every fifteen or twenty minutes later, and all those work against the timelessness of the story - instead of being about these people, it becomes about that specific time for a few minutes. The almost cartoonish nastiness with which Lozo's job application is treated is one of those moments that may be based on fact but making the corporation mean rather than just uncaring. And the stoner-guy who says weird things is just an over used stock character.

Josh Hamilton is entertaining in the part, though, as is most of the cast, almost all of whom are firmly ensconced on the list of actors people recognize and enjoy but don't go out of their way to see. Paul Rudd is at the top of that list, giving the comfortable lead performance that carries the movie (for someone who used to be talked about as a leading man, he's spent a long time in small scene-stealing roles; no-one steals a scene from him, though). Lauren Ambrose is effervescent and funny as the visitor who catches his eye; Maura Tierney is equally amusing, in a more melancholy way, as his sad-sack sister. Ken Marino and Sarah Paulson are great harried marrieds, snapping at each other enough to show that they're quite stressed but never leaving much doubt that they love each other.

Like the rest of the movie, they're each a little better than you might expect. Not much in "Diggers" will crack any kind of list of the best, but none of it is particularly unsatisfying, either.

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