'Win Win' is an oddity. It’s a movie about teenagers who are, gasp, intelligent, thoughtful, polite, and better off than their adult counterparts. Teenagers are often written as either social misfits, drugged out losers, cynical drunkards, or sex-starved miscreants. It’s always nice to see a movie that treats adolescents with respect. Perhaps, I’m just tired of the same old formulaic high school movies, or I still have the horrendous 'Twelve' rattling around in my brain from last year’s fest, but watching 'Win Win' gave me hope that filmmakers out there may continue to create thought-provoking, poignant adolescent characters.
Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is a lawyer who’s struggling to pay his bills. He’s got his own practice, but the money isn’t exactly rolling in. He’s got a few clients, a boiler that needs fixing, and absolutely no money to spare.
Mike’s client Leo Poplar is about to be declared incompetent by the state and forcefully put in a state care facility. In an act of desperation, Mike offers to become Leo’s guardian. Partly because he’s a good guy, but also because Mike is able to pocket a $1,500 a month commission from Leo’s estate if he takes care of him. Mike, thinking of his family and his law practice, soon sticks Leo in an old folks home so they can take care of him and he can keep the money without doing any of the work. It’s just one of those deals that you know is going to come back and bite him.
When Mike heads over to Leo’s house to shut off the water he finds a kid sitting on the front porch. His name is Kyle, and he’s played brilliantly by newcomer Alex Shaffer (who is actually a very well respected teenage wrestling champion). Shaffer is already a young master of what a thoughtful, intelligent teenager should act like.
Sure, he’s got his problems, but Kyle is a deep-thinking, considerate soul who knows a lot more than he’s letting on. He’s escaped his druggie mother in Ohio and traveled to New Jersey to see his grandpa Leo. Kyle soon builds a relationship with Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan). Mike coaches the local high school wrestling team and they soon find out that Kyle is basically a wrestling prodigy.
The true treat here is Shaffer’s performance. Yes, Giamatti is good as always, and Amy Ryan definitely has some great moments, but Shaffer steals the show. He rips it out from under the big name stars like a wrestler hooking his opponent’s ankle. He’s an enigma up on screen, talking in a low dulcet tone. Even though he acts aloof like most teenagers, it’s easy to tell that there’s a lot brewing just under the surface. He’s standoffish and distant, but also infinitely likable.
I know Giamatti’s name is up there big and bold on the marquee. He’s the person drawing everyone to this movie, but Shaffer is the one keeping them interested. It’s not that Giamatti is bad; it’s just that Shaffer is that good. You know how it’s all going to end. Most of the movie is pretty predictable, but Alex Shaffer has arrived, and you won’t want to miss it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Win Win' is a 20th Century Fox release that comes in a standard keepcase on a 50-GB Blu-ray Disc. It's been coded for region A.
'Win Win' features a strikingly detailed 1080p presentation. I was surprised by the depth and dimensionality contained here because these lower budget indie dramas never tend to look dynamite on Blu-ray. Most of the time they are solid, but ultimately forgettable visual presentations, 'Win Win' isn't one of those.
This is a rich, detailed presentation full of vibrant color, deep shadows, and bustling life. Facial details are strong here, which is important because most of the actors on display here use their faces to perfection. Giamatti is a master at getting you to understand his character's emotions through his face, and the detail of his brow lines give allow you to instantly peg whether he's happy, angry, or concerned.
The filmic grain structure is always even and never wavers one bit. It looks like a film and feels like a film. Skintones are perfectly rendered. Pitch is the only way to describe the blacks here, while shadows never crush detail. Even during the darkest of scenes, like when Kyle wakes up for an early morning run and Mike goes to check on him, the shadows accentuate the figures on screen. This is a very clean, very precise presentation that may catch you by surprise.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is in the same realm as its video counterpart. Even though this is a talkative drama, the mix still takes time out to feature the nuanced sounds of the story.
Rears echo with the yells from coaches and teammates as Kyle and his friends wrestle in cavernous, echoing gymnasiums. Low conversations are crystal clear even though Kyle mumbles through many of his lines like a distracted teenager might. Special attention is paid to random sounds like a box of dried spaghetti landing in a full shopping cart or the squeak of wrestling shoes on the mat. One of the real treats of the audio presentation is the clinking and clanging of the old boiler at Mike's office. The banging pipes clatter throughout the sound stage adding an encompassing feeling that's often missing in these dialogue-heavy dramas.
LFE is light, which is to be expected since there are no explosions or hip-hop music scenes. Bass is kept pretty reserved, but that's fine because the movie never really calls for its services. It may be subdued in nature, but 'Win Win' still packs some sonic delights.
'Win Win' was one of my very favorite movies at Sundance earlier this year, and remains one of my sleeper favorites of the year. Its view of teenagers is a refreshing, realistic approach. It's a coming of age story that seems to sidestep the clichés and deliver a thoughtful resolution. It's hard to believe this is Shaffer's only acting experience. He's a natural, and should go far if he decides to follow this acting thing as a career. 'Win Win' is highly recommended.