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Disheartened and struggling attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a part time high school wrestling coach, shuffles his client Leo (Burt Young) into a retirement home while taking a carer's pay to look after him. When Leo's grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) leaves his mother's home and turns up in town, Flaherty recognises the boy's wrestling abilities and takes him in both as a new team member and a house guest, with his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) not so keen. Kyle's prowess improves the team's track record but when his mother comes out of rehab and turns up looking for Leo and her son, Flaherty's questionable business dealing is threatened.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's what we do not what we say that demonstrates who and what we are as individuals, which is why filmmakers are often told that 'action is character'. Thomas McCarthy has a writer's instinct for this and a filmmaker's eye for using all the tools of cinema to tell his story. It's a wonderful screenplay; observant, wise and nonjudgmental, drawing out its universal relevance from an intimate and subtle story of human weakness and strength.

Paul Giamatti plays the struggling lawyer and family man who feels overwhelmed by his unpaid bills and underwhelmed by his ebbing clientele. Business is lousy, but not wanting to worry her, he hasn't told his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan). Nor does he immediately tell her that he's signed on as the official carer to Leo Poplar, the ageing client at the early stages of dementia. It was a decision driven more by the $1500 monthly carer's fee than by genuine altruism, but to be fair, he did try to find Leo's only living relative, his daughter, Cindy (Melanie Lynsky). He's a decent man, really, an average guy struggling against hard realities.

As fate would have it (and it often does), a young man turns up looking for his granddad, having left his single mother and her boyfriend - in vague circumstance. The boy, Kyle (Alex Shaffer) is a teenager with a jaundiced view of his mother.

From this set of circumstances, in themselves hardly unique, McCarthy builds a story that engages us with both the veracity of his characters and the troubled journeys they all make. Flaherty's good luck with getting a top junior wrestler and his self-engineered luck with getting some cashflow are both put at risk in a way that not only satisfies dramatic needs, but rings with the authenticity of everyday life.

The scale of the film's drama is not the surface issue of what happens to Flaherty, although that is our primary question as an audience, but the larger topics raised in the screenplay, such as moral responsibilities to each other. Not only Flaherty's but Cindy's, as much as Kyle's.

Filled with many delightful details, not least some amusing moments with the little Flaherty daughter Abby (Clare Foley) and engaging characters like his recently jilted friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) and coach's assistant Stephen Vigman (Jeffrey Tambour), the film maintains a restrained tone of credible reality. Alex Shaffer as Kyle is outstanding as the troubled but smart youngster who is the emotional centre of the film.

Review by Louise Keller:
A modest story but with universal truths, this beautifully realised independent film about winning and second chances is one of those gems that easily finds its mark. There's a resounding sense of integrity about this film by director Tom McCarthy whose characters are flawed and struggling to cope in one way or another. As in his earlier films The Station Agent and The Visitor, McCarthy creates fully dimensional characters who we feel as though we come to know. As a result, we understand their motivation, whether it is right or wrong and get a sense of which way the needle is spinning when it comes to their moral compass. The humour is subtle and ironic and the emotional impact explosive with a compelling performance by Paul Giamatti and an impressive debut for teen wrestling champ Alex Shaffer.

When the ever-curious youngster Abby (Clare Foley) learns her father is out running, she asks innocently, 'From what?' It's a good question and one that quickly gets answered as we enter the stressful, pressured life of Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), a small town lawyer in New Jersey who specialises in elderly clients. We instantly sense that Mike is a good man with a good heart. He seems to work non stop - whether it is dealing with his clients, coaching the wrestling team at the gym or trying to fix any number of things that have gone wrong. The hot water system is making ominous noises, the toilet is blocked and the tree at the front of the house needs chopping down. But funds are low and Mike doesn't want to burden his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) with the financial worries.

Opportunity comes knocking and Mike takes an ethical detour to make ends meet - a decision that he comes to bitterly regret. It concerns Leo (Burt Young), an elderly client with advanced dementia, whose only daughter has been out of contact for 20 years. Things become complicated when Leo's 16 year old grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) arrives unannounced from Ohio and moves in with Mike, Jackie and their two young children, even though they can't afford to support him. Kyle doesn't speak much but broods under a mop of bleached blond hair with a sullen expression. The first glint of a smile appears when he gets involved with the wrestling team. Wrestling is his forte. What does he like about it? Being in control.

Control is something that Mike's life is clearly lacking and when Kyle's mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) arrives in town, everything comes to a head. The trust and friendship Mike has built up with Kyle becomes shattered and integrity becomes the key issue as the errors of judgement from the past are exposed. It is not just the big issues that matter because every little issue impacts on the whole. Relationships, trust and control swirl together as McCarthy draws us into Mike's complicated world. It's an encounter we are happy to have made.
First published in the Sun-Herald

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(US, 2011)

CAST: Paul Giamatti, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Alex Shaffer, Margo Martindale

PRODUCER: Mary Jane Skalski, Michael London, Lisa Maria Falcone

DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy

SCRIPT: Tom McCarthy, Joe Tiboni


EDITOR: Tom McArdle

MUSIC: Lyle Workman


RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes



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