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Giamatti wins us over in Win Win

Paul Giamatti and newcomer Alex Shaffer star in Win Win, an engaging tale of disillusionment and redemption.
Paul Giamatti and newcomer Alex Shaffer star in Win Win, an engaging tale of disillusionment and redemption.
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Win Win


Win Win, directed by Thomas McCarthy (Meet the Parents, Michael Clayton, The Lovely Bones) provides the talented Paul Giamatti yet another opportunity to win us over, in an engaging tale of disheartenment, disillusionment and, ultimately, compassion and redemption.

Giamatti once again plays the kind of everyman character for which he is well known, and with good reason: he is very good at it. In Win Win, he plays Mike Flaherty, a lawyer whose practice, in these dicey economic times, is in trouble. He has two young kids, a supportive wife, a belching furnace, a tree that about to fall onto his house, health insurance payments that are overdue, and a copier about to be repossessed.

Into his life comes an aging, working class client, Leo, who has lots of money, and needs financial oversight. Leo seems to be the answer to Mike’s financial drownings and, in desperation, he takes on the guardian role for this client. But in doing so, he makes an ethical choice that will come back to haunt him.

Flaherty is also the high school wrestling coach of a team with a notorious losing streak. Jeffrey Tambor plays Vigman his assistant coach with pukish humor and good hearted courage. Bobby Cannavale plays Mike’s good friend and former wrestling team mate, Terry, who is going thru a bitter divorce and joins the coaching team as a well needed diversion from his troubles. A whole movie could have been made out of these three characters, the male mid-life interactions and comedic possibilities were that good.

Into this coaching triumvirate appears Leo’s grandson, Kyle. First time actor (and high school wrestling champion) Alex Shaffer gives Kyle real personality behind all that bleached hair, and an adolescent vulnerability that is keenly felt on the screen. Kyle is a wrestling savant, a champion from another state who is currently rootless and homeless – and Mike and his family take him in until things can be sorted out – with interesting results.

Amy Ryan gives a solid supporting performance as Mike’s wife, whose emotions run the gamut from pure mom-fury to pure mom-wisdom, and her interactions with Giamatti were believable and strong. Burt Young provides a tender counterpoint as the perplexed, but proud client, Leo. David Thompson was also wonderful as the dorky high school wrestler Stemler, whom Kyle mentors and befriends.

Win Win is playing locally at the Fairfield Cinemas at Bullard Square.

Four out of five stars. Rated PG-13. No nudity, a bit of swearing, discussion of drug addiction, safe for all children over 12. This film has heart, and an interesting plot that helps all its flawed characters begin to find their way to solutions, though, as in life, there are no easy answers. While the film begins to lose some momentum about two-thirds of the way through, it gives a satisfying ending for all concerned. See it.