2011 Running time: 106 Certificate: 15 Rating: 4

Synopsis

Paul Giamatti plays New Jersey attorney Mike Flaherty, a doting dad struggling to keep his family afloat while moonlighting as a wrestling coach. Seemingly on a downward losing spiral, hope arrives in the form of Kyle, a troubled teenager who might just be the star athlete his team needs to survive. However, an uncharacteristically dodgy decision by Mike means it could all unravel. The Station Agent director Tom McCarthy crafts a heartwarming drama with a standout performance from Giamatti and a pitch perfect script.

Director

  • Thomas McCarthy

Cast

  • Paul Giamatti

  • Amy Ryan

  • Alex Shaffer

  • Bobby Cannavale

  • Melanie Lynskey

Review

Paul Giamatti's suburban dad Mike proves that American heroes don't need the power of flight, an all-conquering big hammer, superhuman strength or the inclination to dress up like a bat.

All they need to be is, well, decent.

Mike's pure goodness (his smalltown law firm is being run into the ground thanks to his cost-ineffective kindness) is thrown into relief by his daft decision to take on guardianship of Leo, a client suffering dementia.

It's an uncharacteristically dubious ploy (Mike needs the money to keep his business afloat) but it's this guilt-ridden flaw that makes him a living, breathing hero.

Out of the blue, Leo's long-lost grandson Kyle (Shaffer), a blond-dyed delinquent, turns up on his doorstep and Mike - thinking that his ill-thought out scam might unravel - takes him in.

It's a virtuous act (sort of) that has its own reward when Kyle turns out to be a champion wrestler, a discovery that puts the team coached by Mike back on the winning track.

However, when Kyle's drug addict mother turns up to claim him back, Mike's foolhardy stunt threatens the newfound happiness of his new charge and stands to undermine his own family.

Beautifully written by director Tom McCarthy, this is a life-affirming gem that proves that dramas needn't have the overblown pomp of a blockbuster or the self-conscious introspection of an indie flick.

Giamatti - warm, genial, wry and haunted - is as good as he was in Sideways while his performance is sublimely complemented by Amy Ryan as his good-hearted wife.

Stealing the best comedy moments is Bobby Cannavale as Mike's buddy, a recently-separated bon viveur who gets rather over-enthusiastic about joining Mike's coaching team.

McCarthy's winning trick is constructing characters you rather like, furnishing them with sharp dialogue and setting them off in a world which looks like it may actually exist.

It's a true win, win.

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