Win Win


By Gary "Lose Lose" Murray


Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey, Burt Young and Alex Shaffer


Written and directed by Tom McCarthy


Running time 106 min


MPAA Rating R


Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE


Contrary to popular opinion, critics want films to be great.  When one sees over 300 films a year, the hope is that the cinema experience is not just a waste of a few hours.  They like to be blown away by what happens on that giant silver screen, to be surprised, delighted and challenged.  So few films do that and most are just recycled garbage.  Which is another reason why Win Win, the new Tom McCarthy flick should be praised.  It is easily one of the best films of 2011.


The story of Win Win is of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) an unsuccessful lawyer with a small private practice who spends his off time being the volunteer coach for the high school wrestling team.    To keep his head above water, he takes a court appointed client Leo (Burt Young), a man with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s.  All that Leo wants is to live at home.  Mike has the right to appoint a guardian but cannot find Leo’s next of kin, his daughter.  The guardianship is a tremendous amount of cash each month.


Mike, with all the bills piling up, decides in a moment of desperation, to become Leo’s guardian.  He puts Leo in an assisted living home, telling Leo that the judge made the decision.  Mike, going over to Leo’s house, finds a young man sitting on the stoop.  His name is Kyle (Alex Shaffer) and he claims that Leo is his grandfather.  Mike takes Kyle to meet Leo and the two hit it off. 


Before he knows it, Mike lets Kyle move into his home.  Kyle’s wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is very apprehensive about having this quiet teenager in the home with two little daughters but soon Kyle becomes a member of the family.  Kyle goes to the wrestling class and shows he has some skills on the mats.  Mike does a search and finds that Kyle is a state winning wrestler.  Mike pushes Kyle to join his team.


The story of Win Win is of Mike’s journey into lying to get what he need and his finding that lying never works out.  Win Win is of a good man with suspect morals.  While ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’, Mike finds that the complications of being devious are never worth it.  But the film is also about family and how the concept of family can be stretched beyond blood.


To call Win Win just a wrestling movie is to call Rocky just a film about boxing.   It is more about family, both nuclear and one’s built out of necessity.  Writer/director Tom McCarthy fleshes out his cast making them solid individuals full of contradiction and weaknesses.  He keeps the production simple and just lets the actors do their jobs.  By making simple choices with the


In a career built on amazing performances, this is yet another stunning portrayal by Paul Giamatti.  He proves once and again that he is the strongest character actor working in Hollywood today.  He gives this small man a giant heart, doing whatever it takes to keep his family above water.  It is a touching, multi-layered reading.


Amy Ryan is probably best known as Holly on The Office.  Here she is a flushed out character being both the supportive mom and wife and the conscience of Mike.  The supporting cast of actors such as Jeffrey Tambor and Burt Young give the film a great sense of depth. 


Win Win is the kind of a film remembered come Oscar time.  Being so far from the end of the year makes the film a long shot, but this could be the dark horse winner of 2011.  Don’t miss this little gem.