As the film "Just Like The Son" opens, Daniel (Mark Webber) is arrested and put in jail. In lieu of more jail time, Daniel is sentenced to 240 hours of community service at an elementary school where he cleans, paints and does other tasks. There he meets a kid named Boone (Antonio Ortiz), who catches his attention when being picked on by other boys in his class. After Daniel intervenes, Principal Mrs. Ponders (Rosie Perez) gives Daniel a chance to fill in until the other teacher arrives.
Daniel returns to the same room to continue reading to the children and helping out in the class, something that seems to give him a sense of purpose and enjoyment - especially after learning that the substitute used to do community service. There are a few moments that feel a tad melodramatic in their execution here, but once the film gets going it starts to feel more sincere. The film isn't all about Daniel and his past, but rather about his desire to finish what he sets out to do for his new friend, Boone. "Just Like The Son" is not only a buddy film, but a film about redemption and hope, and as it progresses the message is never forced.
Antonio Ortiz gives a wonderful performance as Boone, who is all at once a playful six year old and a boy scared of his mom going to the hospital and of being put back in a foster school. When Daniel finds out that Boone has to be taken away and sent to a foster care, he's determined to help. With the knowledge that Boone thinks his older sister ran away to Dallas, Daniel takes it upon himself to get Boone to her, without asking permission. Together they go on a road trip across the country to find Boone a place to belong with his family.
What makes the film as good as it is is that Daniel's past behavior isn't just immediately out of his system once he starts his community service, or once he starts being trusted - or even once he befriends Boone. His character remains flawed, but that only helps the film stay more real and honest. Mark Webber is the perfect casting as Daniel, offering a performance that's subtle and genuine. While he's taken Boone without permission and without a thought about the consequences, it's hard not to root for the two a bit, believing (again, thanks to a fine performance from Webber) that Daniel's intentions are good.
With an ending that is bittersweet, "Just Like The Son" is a rewarding little film that at only 80 minutes manages to cover a wide array of emotions without - aside from a few exceptions early on - feeling too melodramatic. Overall, this rather '70's style little drama may not compel repeat viewings, but it's a fine effort from everyone involved. Worth a rental look especially for the performances from Ortiz and Webber.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Breaking Glass Pictures. Sharpness and detail aren't noteworthy, but the picture remained at least moderately crisp throughout much of the running time, with only a few moments looking noticeably softer. The presentation remained clean throughout much of the running time, with only a couple of traces of pixelation and no edge enhancement or other faults. Colors remained on the somewhat subdued side, but looked accurately presented.
SOUND: Clean, clear dialogue-driven Dolby 2.0 presentation.
EXTRAS: "Making Of Just Like The Son" is a fairly straightforward doc with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and footage from the film. The "Making of Just Like The Son" also discusses Director Morgan J. Freeman's earlier work.
"Cast Interviews" - Interviewed by someone off camera, the cast answers questions about what drew them to the film, their characters, the story and more. At nearly thirty minutes, there are some refreshing moments especially with Antonio Ortiz.
"Director's Statement" - Director, Morgan J. Freeman offers a text here that explains why he writes the kinds of films he does and the reasoning for using certain film styles.
Previews from the production company as well as for "Just Like The Son" are also included.
Final Thoughts: "Just Like The Son" is a rewarding little film that at only 80 minutes manages to cover a wide array of emotions without feeling too melodramatic. Worth a look especially for the performances from Ortiz and Webber. A recommended rental.