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The best sports movie this year

  • Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty and Alex Shaffer as Kyle Timmons in "WIn Win."
  • Paul Giamatti as Mike Flaherty and Alex Shaffer as Kyle Timmons in "WIn Win."
  • Win Win
  • A scene from "Win WIn."
  • Director Tom McCarthy and Paul Giamatti on the set of "Win WIn."
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Oscar nominee (Amy Ryan) and Oscar winner (Paul Giamatti) are a married couple; they may argue occasionally, but they’re basically happy. They have a young child, and Giamatti’s health issues seem to be in check. Ryan doesn’t realize he’s also having trouble making money at his law practice. When he sees a quick fix, taking of the guardianship of an old client (played wonderfully by Burt Young of Rocky fame), that only complicates things. Giamatti figures it’ll be an easy $1,500 a month to take care of the guy, but when he puts him in a home, you wonder if you’ll be able to like him. It was a lot like when he stole money from his mom in Sideways.

We still end up rooting for Giamatti, especially when Young’s grandson shows up after running away from home. He’s played by newcomer Alex Shaffer, a real life New Jersey state wrestling champ.

When we start seeing the troubled kid interact with others, we realize just how good a writer/director Tom McCarthy is. He’s given us The Station Agent, and the wonderfully underrated The Visitor from a few years ago. And what he does so well with the writing here is, characters aren’t clichéd caricatures. Giamatti isn’t some ambulance chasing lawyer or one that’s trying to make big bucks in unethical ways. He actually seems to care about his clients. The young, troubled teen isn’t some druggy that curses everyone out.

The cast is rounded out by Bobby Cannavale, who is annoying (but he’s supposed to be). Jeffrey Tambor, who probably plays a sad-sack more than Giamatti has (The Larry Sanders Show, Meet Joe Black).

I interviewed the writer/director and wrestler Alex Shaffer about this movie a few weeks ago at the Hard Rock Café downtown.

The first thing I said to McCarthy is that I like the fact that he didn’t play crappy Bon Jovi music.

He laughed and said “Did you see Vision Quest?”

Uh, yeah, I think. Was that the wrestling movie with Matthew Modine [who is from Chula Vista]?

“Yeah, that movie,” he continued.

“Well, they use that song Lunatic Fringe. It worked great during his work out scene, it’s a great song; but they played it about 18 times in the movie. When he’s walking out to get the mail, you hear it. When he’s just walking down the street, there it is. It lost the impact. I certainly didn’t want to do that.”

Since we were talking about another wrestling movie, I turned to Shaffer; I've seen so many good movies with wrestlers (The Wrestler, The Breakfast Club, World According to Garp)... do you a favorite?

“Well, The Wrestler isn’t real wrestling. Someone asked me if I had seen Garp the other day. I still haven’t seen his movie [The Visitor] yet.”

Now that you’re done with high school, will you pursue wrestling or acting?

“I love them both so much. I have been wrestling since I was little, and doing judo since I was 12. I’m going to probably look into acting.”

I looked back at McCarthy, who was texting someone - never a good sign in an interview. I told him how much I loved The Visitor. You had these edits that were very powerful. One showed Richard Jenkins asking the immigrants if they had a place to stay. They said yes, but we know they don’t. The next scene we see Jenkins back in his house, and the camera pans back to show the guy holding a CD in the room with him. There are a few similar cut away scenes like that in this that were perfect. They’re very effective. I also liked the fact that Giamatti isn’t the usual schnook he plays.

He put the phone down and said, “Part of me loved making him more normal. He had friends, a family, kids, clients, and he wasn’t just disconnected to everything. He was just being pulled in a lot of different directions.”

For anybody looking for a good movie to see, picking this would be a win-win.I’ll be anxiously looking forward to the next Tom McCarthy film

I’m giving it a B.