Sunday, April 3, 2011

Richard J. Lewis and Tom McCarthy: Arms and the Man

Paul Giamatti stands arms and head above most other leading men in contemporary American movies. His indefatigable way of gleaning the insides on the outside, his ability to elicit identification in the average Joe, his joy at just being is contagious and inspiring.

In two recent films, he showed the range of his precious gift. As Barney Panofsky, the schlubby, cigar chomping, alcoholic womanizing sitcom writer who gets mixed up with zany women and a murder mystery, the complexity that is a man, a human being, has never been more extinguishing to our preconceptions. Though Richard J. Lewis goes deliciously for the look and feel of a seventies movie, his plot stalls out and falls apart. But at the center is Giamatti as this irresistible mess of a man, chewing up scenery beautifully with Dustin Hoffman as his offensive, ex-cop father.

Tom McCarthy shows us with his solid junior effort as a director, Win Win, that he is a truly talented, old fashioned writer-director of human comedy drama. Giamatti once more displays a warmth and depth as senior citizen lawyer and high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty, who through a plot twist ends up taking care of not only his wife and daughters, but a client suffering from Alzheimer's ( a brilliant turn by Burt Young) and his runaway grandson( superb debut by Alex Shaffer), who turns out to be an ace wrestler who can save Mike's team. Unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down by the usual plot contrivances in its last half, not withstanding a charming tone and wonderful cast, including Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey and Margo Martindale.

These two slight "independent" films provide one of our greatest actors the chance to shine once more in multi-layered performances.

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