'Win Win' Is A Victory For Writer-Director McCarthy

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Writer-director Tom McCarthy is best known for independent hits The Visitor and The Station Agent, but his latest film, Win Win, might be his best. Paul Giamatti is Mike, a lawyer and high school wrestling coach whose life is unraveling because his business is on the verge of going under.


Movie writer and director Tom McCarthy is best known for the independent hits "The Visitor" and "The Station Agent." Critic Kenneth Turan says his latest film, "Win Win," might be his best.

KENNETH TURAN: "Win Win" is hard to pin to the mat, but pure pleasure to experience. This may sound like a Frank Capra film, but it's one in which the hurt of the real world forcefully intrudes. Paul Giamatti is Mike, a lawyer and high school wrestling coach whose life is unraveling because his business is on the verge of going under. Even a jog with his best friend, played by Bobby Cannavale, almost turns disastrous.


PAUL GIAMATTI: (As Mike) (Unintelligible)

BOBBY CANNAVALE: (As Bobby) What's going on?

GIAMATTI: (As Mike) I just - I can't breathe.

CANNAVALE: (As Bobby) OK, you could be having a heart attack, Mike.

GIAMATTI: (As Mike) No.

CANNAVALE: (As Bobby) Just lay down.

GIAMATTI: (As Mike) No, it's wet. It's wet.

CANNAVALE: (As Bobby) Are you cold?

GIAMATTI: (As Mike) Yeah, 'cause I'm laying on the ground.

CANNAVALE: (As Bobby) OK...

TURAN: Mike needs money so badly he lies to a judge and an elderly client with dementia named Leo in order to pocket a fee. Enter Kyle, the grandson Leo didn't know existed. He's a 16-year-old so monotone and monosyllabic, it seems he's in the early stages of dementia himself, except for one thing: this kid is one terrific wrestler.

Because Mike is a wrestling coach, this sounds like the win-win situation of the title. Kyle takes a slot on the high school team. And Mike brings him home, which makes Mike's wife, played by Amy Ryan, really suspicious.


ALEX SHAFFER: (As Kyle) I want a smoke. Should I go outside?

AMY RYAN: (As Jackie) You shouldn't be smoking.

SHAFFER: (As Kyle) I know, but if I do.

RYAN: (As Jackie) Then you should go outside.

SHAFFER: (As Kyle) All right. Night, Jackie.

RYAN: (As Jackie) Good night.

GIAMATTI: (As Mike) What are you doing?

RYAN: (As Jackie) We have kids, Mike. I'm not taking any chances with having him(ph) down there.

TURAN: It's at this point, however, that things really get complicated. What makes "Win Win" such a success is writer-director McCarthy's feeling for his characters. He's got a wonderful gift for off-center human comedy at its most heartfelt and he brings big issues into focus with his graceful touch for tiny moments. McCarthy respects the viewpoints of all his characters while having a strong position of his own. For a writer-director, that is a win-win situation indeed.

INSKEEP: Ken Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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