Thursday, March 31, 2011

Win Win

Mike Flaherty's life teeters on the edge of failure; his law practice is suffering, bills aren't getting paid, the wrestling team he coaches is on a losing streak, and his furnace is about to blow. His marriage seems solid enough, but when he persuades a judge to allow him to act as guardian to his elderly client, Leo, any domestic calm is upended.

Flaherty has good intentions. He can use the monthly payment for the guardianship to support his family, and place Leo in a nursing home that sees to his needs--where's the problem? That would be the unexpected arrival of Leo's teenage grandson, running away from an unhappy and troubled life in Ohio.

There is much to like in writer/director Tom McCarthy's film that features Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan and newcomer Alex Shaffer. Whether it is McCarthy's measured direction, or the strength of the actors interpretation of his sharp screenplay, what I liked most was the shorthand dialogue that reflects so realistically how people communicate, whether they know each other very well, or not at all.

With any relationship there is a visible dynamic; the interaction seen and heard. However, the subtlety of what isn't said, those gestures that nearly take place, are sometimes more revealing. There's a jazz expression that is similar: it's the notes you don't play. When Paul and his wife ask the teenager typical questions, he answers with polite brevity. We can sense their frustration, and also sympathize with the newcomer. It may not seem like much, but I find that dance especially compelling.

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