Director: Thomas McCarthy
Writers: Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni
Principal cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Leo Poplar, Bobby Cannavale and Alex Shaffer
Release date: 20th May 2011.
Small town lawyer and school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) buckles under the combined pressure of his failing practice and his team’s dire run of losses, until he decides to become the guardian of aging client Burt Young (Poplar).
Faced with the financial burden of business and family, Flaherty misleads the local court by placing his client in a nearby care home whilst pocketing the guardianship allowance.
A strange chain of events begin to unfurl with the arrival of Kyle (Shaffer), a troubled runaway and son of his client’s estranged daughter, who might just be a wrestling champion in the making.
Thomas McCarthy is perhaps best known for his movies The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2008), his third film is another strong character driven piece focusing on an individual caught within a moral dilemma when his life is turned upside down by the arrival of strangers.
There may also be a slight nod to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) with a plot that focuses on the fall from grace of a small town hero whilst the combined themes of wrestling and life changing events would not be out of place in a John Irving novel.
McCarthy gradually unfolds his narrative allowing each character to become successfully established and never once does the film’s emotional aspect seem forced or manipulative whilst also knowing when to throw in moments of quirky humour.
Giamatti manages to centre the piece wonderfully with a subtle performance (and a constant hangdog expression) which sees his good hearted family man just gradually adding a sense of deviance and chicanery to events as he attempts to cover up the increasingly complex fallout resulting from his actions.
Newcomer Strauss is terrific as the troubled teenager and potential wrestling champ running away from a troubled home, adding a sense of detachment, mystery and potential volatility to his character in his first major role.
Melanie Lynskey (best known for her role as Rose in Two and a Half Men) also deserves praise with her portrayal of Kyle’s mother; a bitter and emotional addict throwing a spanner in Flaherty’s scheme whilst adding the basis for Kyle’s troubled nature.
Elsewhere veteran Leo Poplar and Amy Ryan also shine as Flaherty’s client and wife respectively whilst laughs are provided by Terry Delfino as Flaherty’s best friend (think of an older, divorced and successful Joey Tribbiani facing a mid life crisis) and David Thompson as high school geek and wannabe wrestler Stemler (providing the film with it’s most absurd sporting moment).
Although there is nothing new in the themes covered in the film and some may feel that the third act with the central character’s redemption is predictable, the movie’s likeable and engaging performances lift it above the norm.
A confident blend of drama, morals and comedy combined with great acting make Win Win a touching and sometimes funny redemption tale. Recommended.
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