A profoundly decent older man achieves a measure of dignity in a cruel world after he teams up with a motherless little quacker in “Duck.” The always-compelling Philip Baker Hall is front and center as a widower whose fixed income no longer covers his needs and whose only friend is a duck he names Joe. Set in a not-too-distant and only slightly imaginary future in which the head of state is still named Bush, feature debut by scripter-helmer Nic Bettauer is a small, affecting road movie peopled with sharp vignettes. Good reviews could nudge this from fests into modest theatrical and home format lives.
Still robust and healthy despite his years, Arthur Pratt (Hall) exhausted his savings caring for his beloved late wife, and Social Security and pensions have been abolished in this near future. Arthur intends to kill himself but refrains in order to nurse a duckling who mistakes him for its mother.
The homeless pair sets out in search of a haven suited to both man and duck, meeting other hapless individuals along the way. Pic’s conceit is so specific, it’s hard to find a finale. But bittersweet mini-odyssey emphasizes that society squanders its human resources in unconscionable ways.
Set in Los Angeles in 2009, pic — by coincidence or design — also comes across as an appropriate update of Vittorio De Sica’s postwar Italian classic “Umberto D” in which a dignified older man is also driven from his home, with only his dog for company.
Waddling quacker is photogenic, and Hall has the right mix of whimsy and gravitas as the wise, self-sufficient man with no money and all the time in the world. Amy Hill is particularly touching as a refugee who has remade her life in America, translating her own horrific experiences into compassion instead of greed.