With Win Win (2011) co-writer-director Tom McCarthy has pulled the filmmaking hat trick and dodged the sophomore, or any other slump. If he decides to release home videos of his cat next year, I will go.
As has been my habit recently, a few disconnected observations:
Paul Giamatti is especially good at two modes: the guy who is already exasperated at what you're about to say -- he uses that for his villains and for John Adams; and the guy who knows he's going to be found out, and that it's too late to do anything but wait for it all to come down on him. He employs the latter in Win Win.
I am prejudiced toward any movie not set in New York, Los Angeles or shot in Toronto or Vancouver pretending to be New York or Los Angeles. By the way, I've seen a number of films set in Montreal, but has there ever been a film shot in Toronto which was set in Toronto? Anyway, it made me said that Long Island had to stand in for New Jersey. Still, there's a way that our houses and streets are set in this part of country that we don't generally see in the movies, something that almost screams, "this is not a movie, this is really happening." I know it isn't, but I like the illusion that it is.
McCarthy has achieved the rare accomplishment of placing a "gun in the drawer in the first act" and never pulling it out again, in violation of all conventions of play- and screenwriting. I refer to the threatening furnance in the basement. Maybe it should have its own movie (a horror film, of course).
I'm in favor of more films about high school wrestling. The more we can divorce wrestling from the trashmouth vaudeville they have on TV, the better. But it makes no sense that the leading character, played by Alex Shaffer, an excellent wrestler who plays an excellent wrestler, claims to wrestle as if he were escaping something that was trapping him. Surely only us bad wrestlers (which includes me and the co-authors of the script of Win Win) felt that way. Good wrestlers seem to float over the surface of their opponents, as does Shaffer in this film.
Non-actors like Shaffer can only work on film next to great actors like Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan. A non-actor working alongside actors awash in artificial technique would seem too small, too understated and subject to criticism for not acting. But put an actor next to a Giamatti and the understatement will blend in seamlessly.
I can't wait for the doctoral theses soon to be produced about the "McCarthy trilogy." I just hope Mr. McCarthy never reads any of them.