Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) is determined to keep working even though his job no longer exists.

Working Man is a modest story set against the economic landscape that has left thousands of factory workers without jobs. It’s like a fictional counterpart of last year’s award-winning documentary American Factory. (Until it isn’t—of which, more later.)

Peter Gerety stars as Allery Parkes, who has spent decades toiling in a small-town plastics factory. He’s so devoted to the job that, after the owners shut the plant down, he breaks in through a back door and continues reporting to “work” every day. Unable to restart the assembly line because the power has been shut off, he simply switches to cleaning the machinery rather than running it.

Like a modern-day version of Herman Melville’s Bartleby the scrivener, Allery stubbornly clings to a job that no longer exists.

A brief scene in the beginning reveals that the plant shutdown isn’t the first heartache Allery has faced. Years earlier, he and wife Iola (Talia Shire) lost their son to suicide, leaving a mark on them and, no doubt, their marriage. Maybe that helps to explain why Allery is so loath to accept this latest loss in his life.

But, of course, you don’t have to lose a child in order to feel the pain of lost work. Jobs give you security and, at times, a sense of purpose. So when a neighbor and former co-worker named Walter (Billy Brown) finds a way to restart the machinery, others soon join Allery in returning to the factory that once employed them. Then the town’s TV station begins covering the story, and their act of defiance turns into a local cause celebre.

Screenwriter and director Robert Jury tells this simple tale in an understated way, allowing his actors to bring their characters skillfully and quietly to life. The sparse dialogue is less revealing than, for example, Allery’s slow and painful gait or Iola’s worried glances. For most of the running time, Jury stumbles only when he throws in a jarring bit of comedy relief in the form of a clownish TV reporter.    

But then, about three-quarters of the way through, the film switches gears in a way that may make viewers think they’ve been conned by a bait-and-switch scam. Things are not as they seem, we learn. Though Jury has partially prepared us for the new revelations by throwing in little hints throughout, he generally fails to stick the landing. Worst of all, he undermines the tale’s heartfelt themes for the sake of a tidy ending.

While some may find that ending perfectly satisfying, others will wish he’d left Allery’s world a little messier—and a little more like the world we all live in.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Working Man (no MPAA rating) can be streamed through VOD outlets and will be available on DVD June 2.

More reviews by Richard Ades can be found on his blog,