Dir. Tom McCarthy
Even seen from behind from a distance, and wearing an orange hoodie sweatshirt as he huffs and puffs down a wood path early in the morning, the sloped shoulders and shambling body language of Paul Giamatti is clearly recognizable. No American actor, save perhaps Philip Seymour Hoffman, is better at utilizing his everyman physique and pliable face as an instrument of character development. He might seem born to play comedic roles, allowing his cartoonish features and rotund countenance to do a lot of the work for him, but he consistently eschews those kinds of roles for much deeper -- and affecting -- dramatic characters, confounding peoples' expectations of just what he might be capable of in the process.
As we first see him in Tom McCarthy's absorbing dramedy, his character, Mike Flaherty, a part-time high school wrestling coach and an attorney in a flailing practice, is starting to panic about his worsening financial situation. His tenacious wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), stays home with their two daughters while he toils away in his small office, and suffers stress disorders. In desperation, he fights to become the guardian of a well-to-do elderly client, Leo (Burt Young), who has begun to slip into dementia in order to pocket the monthly payment from the state, but in order to do so, he has to ignore Leo's stated desire to stay at home and instead put him in a nursing home that will be paid from Leo's own savings. It's a small lie, at least at first, but when Leo's 16-year-old grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), suddenly appears from Columbus, where his addict mother has just entered rehab, in order to spend time with a grandfather he's never met, things get increasingly dicey. To further complicate things, Kyle, who with nowhere else to go, stays on with Mike and Jackie, turns out to be a championship caliber wrestler, an athlete Mike's downtrodden squad desperately needs to be competitive.
McCarthy, a prodigious actor in his own right, has shown in his previous films including The Station Agent and The Visitor, a strong connection with his actors. Here, with the versatile Giamatti, Ryan and newcomer Shaffer, whose thin, expressionless mouth manages to convey a tremendous amount of pain and hostility, he practically pulls us into the screen with his well-rendered characters. The film is light without being overt, engaging without being melodramatic. It's not a life and death narrative, just the story of a good man whose pride gets in the way of his best intentions, and McCarthy, who also wrote the script, mines the smallest details for their collective weight.
This BD disc also offers a host of extras, including deleted scenes, interviews with director McCarthy and co-writer Joe Tiboni, and a conversational interview at Sundance with McCarthy and Paul Giamatti.