{2jtab: Movie Review}

Win Win - movie Review


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5 Stars

As an actor, Thomas McCarthy has gone largely unrecognized, toiling away in a long laundry list of generic character roles that’s no fewer than two or three scroll depths on IMDB: Meet the Parents, Little Fockers, The Wire, Law & Order, etc. We certainly shouldn’t feel sorry for the guy though, as a career in the background of a Hollywood set is a better life than you or I will ever have. But as an actor, he’s the ordinary hard working schlub waiting for a big break.

Behind the camera is a different story however. McCarthy is on a roll. His 2003 directorial debut, The Station Agent showed a genuine rapport with a diverse but talented cast. Then in 2007 McCarthy wrote and directed another surprisingly heartfelt film, The Visitor. He seems to have a great affinity for highlighting actors who are more accustomed to supporting parts. Peter Dinklage and Richard Jenkins are hardly thought of as leading men, yet McCarthy made it work beautifully in both instances.  A case of lightning striking twice in the same place, or does this guy really have something special? His new film, Win Win shows the latter to be the case.

Win Win tells the story of ordinary guy Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a small town lawyer struggling to make ends meet in today’s tough economic climate. He doesn’t have many clients, the building is falling apart, and his furnace is on the blink. But worst of all, he’s unable to muster up the gumption to tell his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) that he can’t afford to fix any of it. Mike’s health is taking a hit too, as he collapses while jogging with his best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale). Ironically, jogging was prescribed by Mike’s doctor to help relieve stress.

The story's real conflict though, comes in the form of a choice made by Mike. Something he does that’s not very ethical but seems harmless enough… at first. Through a desperate act of legal maneuvering, Mike assumes the care of an aging client named Leo (Burt Young) - who suffers from dementia - just so he can get his hands on the old man’s money. And rather than personally attend to Leo's needs, Mike puts him in a care facility where he’ll be less trouble.

It’s not a lot of money though, and this is where McCarthy – who co-wrote the script - makes a smart creative decision. He found just the right amount of money that would challenge the viewer with the intended ethical dilemma. Too high a sum, and we’d immediately discount Mike as the lowest of all scum... those who prey on the elderly. But make it low enough and it nearly flies under the radar. We almost justify Mike’s indiscretion since the man is actually receiving care... just not by Mike. Also helping to compound the audience’s dilemma, is McCarthy’s choice of the elderly care facility where Mike houses Leo. It’s of the more upscale variety, meaning we won’t immediately accuse Mike of elder abuse. Both astute choices by the up and coming filmmaker.

Mike would likely get away with his plan were it not for a couple of complications. The first comes in the form of Leo’s grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer) who was dumped on the old man by his drug-addicted mother. Mike’s initial thought is to send the boy home. But when he finds out the kid was a state champion wrestler back in Ohio – and Mike happens to coach the school’s wrestling team - Mike sees it as a win/win situation for both himself and the boy. That is until Kyle’s mom (Melanie Lynsky) shows up wanting both the boy and her father’s money.

There’s a lot happening in McCarthy’s movie: money troubles, drug addiction, child neglect, moral and ethical dilemmas, small-town relationships, family issues, elder abuse, and more. But McCarthy handles it all like a well-seasoned filmmaker. As an actor himself, he knows the importance of team chemistry and of getting the most from a cast. While Giamatti is certainly an A-lister, McCarthy’s choice of lesser-known actors to fill out the surrounding roles, including real-life state champion wrestler Shaffer (who has never acted before), pays off in a big way, as there’s not a weak link in the bunch. McCarthy skillfully stitches together a gauntlet of weighty but real topics, then leads us through while never making any of it feel heavy-handed or forced. Win Win is an all-around solid, well-written, brilliantly acted film that challenges and entertains. It’s a no-lose proposition.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Win Win - movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for language
: Thomas McCarthy
: Thomas McCarthy
Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer; Melanie Lynsky, Bobby Cannavale; Burt Young
: Comedy | drama
Memorable Movie Quote:
"I don't have a grandson. yeah... you do."
20th Century Fox
Official Site: www.foxsearchlight.com/winwin
Release Date: March 25, 2011 (wide)
Blu-ray Release Date:
August 30, 2011

Plot Synopsis: Tom McCarthy, acclaimed writer/director of The Visitor and The Station Agent, explores the allegiances and bonds between unlikely characters with a lighter touch in his new film. Struggling attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, becomes legal guardian of an elderly client in an attempt to help keep his practice afloat. When the client's teenage grandson runs away from home and shows up on his grandfather's doorstep, Mike's family life and his wrestling team are turned upside down. Mike's win-win proposition turns into something much more complicated than he ever bargained for. McCarthy's deft touch balancing drama and comedy, broken hearts and poignant humanity is at play in "Win Win."

{2jtab: Blu-ray/DVD Review}

Win Win - blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
5 stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 23, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1
50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region A

Framed in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Win Win’s 1080p transfer is another win for the picture. Colors are consistently bright and sharp and extremely natural in vibrancy and aural appeal. Skin tones are pleasantly natural with no harshness to the image. Details are strong throughout. Black levels are strong but not deep. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound track is immersive without being obvious. Overall, this release is a solid treatment of a great film.



  • None

Special Features:

The supplemental materials aren’t the greatest, but they are serviceable.  There are a couple of deleted scenes that flesh out a bit of the what’s missing from the narrative but, seeing as this can all be inferred, the scenes are a bit needless.  Director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Joe Tiboni make a standard interview session into a fun time for everyone with a relaxed style and jovial presentation.  There are also a couple of vignettes featuring the film’s presentation at Sundance.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Deleted Scenes (2 min)
  • Interview with Director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Joe Tiboni (7 min)
  • David Thompson At Sundance (3 min)
  • “Family” EPK (3 min)
  • Director Tom McCarthy and actor Paul Giamatti Discuss ‘Win Win’ at Sundance (3 min)
  • The National’s “Think You Can Wait” Music Video (5 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer

{2jtab: Trailer}