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Win Win - Review

Win Win

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WRITER-director Thomas McCarthy has already proved with The Station Agent and The Visitor that he is the master of character-driven tales of ‘lost’ individuals coming together to form a kind of surrogate family. With Win Win he completes a hat-trick of really great movies.

Both emotionally absorbing and rewarding, the film takes an excellent ensemble cast and deftly combines humour and high drama to create a thoroughly entertaining experience that’s capable of resonating with viewers of every age.

And, as with both of his prior movies, it’s the sort of film you don’t want to end.
The story focuses on cash-strapped attorney and unsuccessful high school wrestling coach Mike (Paul Giamatti), who stumbles across a star athlete (Alex Shaffer’s Kyle Timmons) after making a questionable business deal involving Kyle’s grandfather and becoming his legal guardian.

With recently divorced best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) in tow, Mike sets about improving his wrestling team’s fortunes until Kyle’s mother comes to town and threatens to expose the decision at the heart of Mike’s good fortune.

Operating from a simple but identifiable story, McCarthy’s film slowly invests audiences into the lives of every character so that it’s easy to understand and even root for each one in spite of the unethical choice that kick-starts proceedings.

Giamatti is typically excellent as Mike, offering a nice alternative to his usually gruff persona and really tapping into the anxiety of his decision, as well as the joy it brings him and his family.

But he’s given superb support by an ensemble cast that ranges from veteran performers such as Burt Young (excellent as Kyle’s mentally ‘unstable’ grandfather) to untrained newcomers like Shaffer’s Kyle, utterly convincing as a disaffected teen given new meaning and focus in his life.

Indeed, Shaffer’s grounded portrayal of Kyle gives the film its authenticity, as he’s a flesh-and-blood teen of the real world variety: moody, occasionally surly, yet slowly appreciative of the new opportunity his relationship with Mike’s family affords.

The film’s heart, meanwhile, comes from Amy Ryan’s mother and wife, whose initial reluctance and snapshot judgement of Kyle slowly gives rise to a touching, yet honestly played surrogate mother relationship. Ryan, who was Oscar nominated for her performance in Gone Baby Gone, should be a cert to make the short-list for next year’s awards.

McCarthy veteran Cannavale (who impressed in The Station Agent) also brings charisma and humour to proceedings by finding comedy in his character’s desperation without ever overplaying it. His camaraderie with Giamatti is a joy to behold.

Yet it’s these relationships that ensure McCarthy’s film has such a big emotional impact and which – like his first two films – make each and every character worth hanging out with and slowly getting to know.

It means that by the time the film reaches its satisfying, yet not overplayed conclusion, you’ll be yearning to hang out some more, if only to see how their lives develop beyond that final scene.

It’s a tribute to both cast and director, therefore, that Win Win offers such a nuanced and rewarding near-masterpiece.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 106mins
UK Release Date: May 20, 2011