Sunday, April 17, 2011


To say Win Win  is the best film I've seen so far this year is to say very little - not when a year has been as underwhelming as this one. However, I can say with utmost confidence that this wonderful movie will still be one of the best films of the year come December.

Co-writer/director Tom McCarthy remains one of our keenest observers of humanity - in all of its guises. None of his characters ever turns out to be as clear-cut as they seem at first. As his stories progress, they gradually reveal new layers - some of them appealing, some of them regretful - all of them fascinating.

Take Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), for example. He's an eminently decent guy, but he's also a frustrated one - frustrated enough that he becomes the legal guardian of an elderly client (Burt Young), because said client has a deep-pocketed estate that would bring Mike some badly-needed extra income.

That decisions ultimately brings into Mike's life the old man's grandson - a taciturn teen named Kyle  (Alex Shaffer) who rarely says more than five words at a time. But he's more than he seems to be as well. At first glance, he appears to be a sullen, withdrawn boy who doesn't much care for anyone. But he turns out to be a gifted wrestler - something that's advantageous to Mike, who is a high school wrestling coach. And there are still more secrets in store.

I notice that I've spent more time than I typically do describing the plot. Most of the time I try to keep that to a bare minimum because I try to be sensitive about spoilers, and because so many Hollywood films these days tell their whole stories in their ads.  Win Win revels in more than what's obvious, and that makes it fascinating.

And its strength is not just in the writing and acting.  There are lots of knowing visual details too, such as the very first shot of the movie, which shows Giamatti jogging, his back to the camera - and then two other joggers easily outdistance him. Without saying a word, Win Win establishes that it's a movie about a character feeling like he can't keep up.

McCarthy hasn't worked all that often, with only three films as a director - The Station Agent and The Visitor being the others. But in these three films, McCarthy shows more of the world than most filmmakers do in their entire careers.

When we screw something up or talk about how flawed we are, we often say, "I'm only human." Win Win shows that side, but  reminded me that being human entails what's good about us too.


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