By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin March 18, 2011 at 4:30AM
Tom McCarthy made an impressive filmmaking debut eight years ago as the writer and director of the indie hit The Station Agent, which introduced us to Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale. He followed it with The Visitor, which earned Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination. Being an actor himself, he writes great parts for performers he admires, and he’s hit the bull’s-eye once again with Win Win, which stars Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan.
Giamatti can play “big” characters or he can be an everyman: here he’s completely convincing as a small-town lawyer who’s having a tough time making ends meet. He tries to shield his desperation from his wife (Ryan), and their two kids, and works out his anxieties by—
—running with his pal Bobby Cannavale and coaching the local high school wrestling team, along with a colleague played by Jeffrey Tambor.
One day, while handling a court proceeding for a local man who’s in the first stages of dementia, he seizes on an opportunity to help himself out. It isn’t illegal, but it isn’t quite kosher, either, and that’s what sets the story in motion. It involves Giamatti and his family in the lives of the man’s grandson, a troubled teenage boy—and puts his ethics on the line.
Win Win isn’t a morality play; it’s just a really good story. But it does deal with an issue that couldn’t be more relevant: Where do we draw the line when it comes to survival if it means clouding our sense of right and wrong? It’s this burning issue, presented in everyday terms, that enables us to invest emotionally in Win Win, with the help of a fine acting ensemble, which also includes Melanie Lynskey, Burt Young, Margo Martindale, and newcomer Alex Shaffer. I found it enormously satisfying; in fact, I think it’s the best film of the new year, and I hope it has the same kind of success Tom McCarthy’s other films have enjoyed.