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Performing Art
Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer star in "Win Win."
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2011 6 years ago



As of late, character actor Paul Giamatti has firmly established himself as a hugely successful leading man. That statis was initially achieved in “Sideways” in 2004. His most recent and best work of his career has been in “Barney’s Version” and “Win Win,” concurrently now playing theaters.

“Win Win” is a simple and forthright film, which is victorious on so many levels. Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a lackluster lawyer who’s having difficulty making ends meet. For the most part, he’s a good man, a loving father and husband.

When Mike represents Leo Poplar (Burt Young of “Rocky” fame), an elderly man in the beginning throes of Alzheimer’s, he grasps a not-so-above-the board opportunity. Leo’s estate pays $1,500 a month for legal guardianship, and although Mike promises Leo that he can remain in his beloved home, he carts him off to a nursing home. Mike rationalizes it as a win-win situation.

His little scheme begins to rear its ugly head when Leo’s unbeknownst grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), suddenly enters the picture. Ironically, Mike, who also coaches high school wrestling, discovers Kyle has made quite a name for himself in the sport. When he allows the runaway and abused boy to live in his home, Mike’s family forges a loving bond with Kyle. But all hell breaks loose when Kyle’s greedy, drug addicted mother (Melanie Lynskey of “Two and a Half Men”) hits town.

Giamatti is a genius at playing lovable oafs. In “Win Win” he remains true to form, the king of deadpan, the guy who blends into the crowd but always manages to wheedle his way into his audience’s hearts. We can forgive Mike’s indiscretion because he commits it out of love for his family. It’s so easy to feel sorry for so many of Giamatti’s characters. Those hangdog eyes are irresistibly fetching.

Director/writer Tom McCarthy has assembled a wonderfully winning cast in this marvelous film. Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) is perfect as Mike’s wife. She allows Giamatti to steal their scenes together, but it’s impossible to ignore her glorious presence. Best of all is Bobby Cannavale, who plays Mike’s bitter, recently divorced friend. He gets all the best lines and delivers them with witty precision. Cannavale also starred in McCarthy’s stunning indie, “The Station Agent.” In a supporting role, he owned the film.

McCarthy is known for making movies about quirky people who end up in surrogate familial situations. In “Win Win” all of his characters end up doing the right thing at its conclusion. It’s all tied up in a neat little package with a tidy bow, but in a very good way. “Win Win” is exactly what its title suggests.

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