Thomas McCarthy, the American film director, has a new film ready for release & I am a little worried. McCarthy’s previous 3 films have been big favourites round our yard. All 3 have featured convincing actors whose characters & relationships develop beyond the overture. Their reactions & perspectives alter as situations change & new shit comes to light. Y’know, like I do, like you do, like real people do. This time around “The Cobbler” stars Adam Sandler. OK, what about “Punch Drunk Love”, isn’t that a good movie ? It is but I have seen “Little Nicky”, “50 First Dates”, & (Un)”Funny People” & each time resolved that me & the man-child Sandler could get along without each other fine thank you. Hey, “The Cobbler” also features Steve Buscemi (always a good thing), Dustin Hoffman (heavyweight) & a Brit off of “Downton Abbey” (Downright Shabby..ho-ho). It’s co-written & directed by Thomas McCarthy so it will be at the top of my to-see list.
Mr McCarthy takes his time making films, the first 3 are spread over 10 years. His day job is as an actor in films that you have probably seen. He is Dr Bob in “Meet The Parents” & “Little Fockers”. Back in 2005, when George Clooney was attempting to establish a liberal cred, McCarthy had parts in “Good Night & Good Luck” & “Syriana”. In series 5 of “The Wire” he played Scott Templeton, a Baltimore Sun journalist who’s over-ambition led him to exaggerate & falsify stories…a nasty piece of work. I guess that one reason for the time between films is that care is taken to achieve a script that is properly finished. These are satisfying dramas with a beginning, a middle & an end, in that order. I see too many acclaimed American movies which end with me going “Huh” !
“The Station Agent” (2003) is an absolute gem of a movie. I carried the DVD around for years, spreading the word, assuring people that a night with this film would be time well spent. Is Peter Dinklage a star now because of “Game of Thrones” ? I knew him from Tom DiCillo’s brilliant comedy “Living In Oblivion” (1995) & the part of Fin is tailor-made for him. Fin, a person of restricted growth, has had enough of being different in a world that really doesn’t handle difference well. He inherits an old train station & sees a chance to walk away, preferring solitude to the prying eyes of stupid people. In McCarthy’s films the world finds a way of coming back at you.
This is a film about friendship An odd menage develops between the taciturn Fin (Dinklage), Olivia, an artist touched by sadness (Patricia Clarkson, the Queen of Indie movies) & the gauche but you gotta like him Joe (Bobby Cannavale). These dissimilar people keep company with each other because the solitary alternative is really a non-runner in a world shared with other people. There is a humanity about “The Station Agent” that is Vonnegutian, the highest praise. If you have seen it then it is one of your favourite movies. If you haven’t…well, what is this, a staring contest ?
Next time around was “The Visitor” (2007), another slice of the American pie often avoided by US cinema. This film’s loner, Walter Vale, is a college professor, stranded by the death of his wife, choosing to shut himself down & pretty much check out on most social interaction. Walter is played by Richard Jenkins, best known for playing the dead father in “Six Feet Under” who since this film has shown up in Coen Brothers joints, movies starring Will Ferrell & Channing flipping Tatum. Watch the clip, you know the guy, he’s a good actor.
“The Visitor” concerns Walter’s rather reluctant return from Connecticut to his New York apartment to find that 2 illegal immigrants are living there. Once again circumstance, Life, gets in the way of a man’s decisions about how he should live. The liberal academic is exposed to a modern America of which he is unaware, emotions which he thought he could avoid. This serious story is confidently handled with humour, pathos & sentimentality, proper sentiment not Hallmark Channel bullshit. “The Visitor” is a touching, memorable film and Thomas McCarthy was hitting 2 for 2.
“Win Win” (2011) has a wider scope than it’s precedents. It has more characters & things get a little more complicated. It’s the way when more people are involved. Mike Flaherty, a small town attorney & high school wrestling coach, is played by Paul Giamatti, the finest American actor of his generation (sorry Mr Seymour Hoffman) so we are already ahead. Amy Ryan (classy) is his wife, Jackie, The incomparable Burt Young, the always funny Jeffrey Tambor are there, Bobby Cannavale (yay !) returns. This cast is solid.
So Mike is shot-down about making the monthly vig to support his family &, hoping he is doing the right thing, is tempted into some financial shenanigans involving a geriatric client. It is his secret to keep from his wife. The client’s grandson shows up, his mother’s in re-hab & he needs a hand which the Flaherty’s provide. These are good people. Kyle , Alex Shaffer’s debut comes on like a young Sean Penn, is a star wrestler so that’s great for Mike. Once again Thomas McCarthy’s screenplay & direction are pitch perfect. He was a high school wrestler himself & these parts of the film are just right.There is a reality, an honesty & an empathy about “Win Win” that I just don’t find in many modern Hollywood movies. Check the clip, it’s The National’s “Think You Can Wait”, (with Sharon Van Etten), the closing track, combined with a making-of the movie. Cooler than a trailer & as cool as the film.
Thomas McCarthy is getting a little busier. As well as “The Cobbler” he wrote “Million Dollar Arm”, this year’s baseball movie. His next film “Spotlight” is a serious story of the exposure of child molestation starring Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton & Mark Ruffalo. I am maybe being pessimistic that quicker work, bigger budgets & movie stars will dilute the quality of his work. Whatever, we have his great humanist trilogy, films that will be appreciated for many years, which make him an outstanding American director.