March 24, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Worth a ticket.


Tom McCarthy has been carving a modest but very impressive niche for himself in the indie film universe. His films The Station Agent and The Visitor were both superbly written and performed, and he takes a small step toward the commercial mainstream with the new WIN WIN. Paul Giamatti stars as Mike Flaherty, a struggling small-town lawyer and family man who crosses an ethical line when he takes on guardianship of an elderly client for his own financial gain. Things get more complicated when the client’s teen grandson (Alex Shaffer) comes to town, but while Mike’s done the wrong thing, he’s not a bad guy, and McCarthy develops the genuine relationship that deepens between Mike, his family, and the boy, particularly when Mike, who’s also the town’s high school wrestling coach, brings the boy onto the team. Less interested in plot than character (the film only falters when it’s forced to resolve its storylines, which it does in rather pat fashion), McCarthy provides beautifully observed moments for his first-rate cast, which also includes Amy Ryan as Giamatti’s wife (she and Giamatti are as wonderful and real together as you’d imagine), and the hilarious Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale as assistant coaches. WIN WIN has its flaws, but it’s mostly another charming and emotionally involving story from one of the few directors these days who seems to care about people more than genre or CG.

–Mitch Salem


(WIN WIN – Fox Searchlight – 106 min. – Director/Script: Tom McCarthy (story by McCarthy and Joe Tiboni) – Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Melanie Lynskey, Burt Young – Limited Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."