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Review: Win Win

Win Win (2011)

Reviewer: Dexter Kong
Rated: 12A (UK)
Release Date: May 20, 2011(UK)
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Alex Shaffer0Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Burt Young


Win Win is the latest film from Tom McCarthy. It is about a disheartened attorney, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), whose life seems to be moving out of his control. In the economic downturn his business is failing. He volunteers as a high school wrestling coach, but even that’s not going well as he has a team essentially full of losers. Till he stumbles upon Kyle (Alex Shaffer), the grandson of a client with dementia that Mike is supposedly taking care of. Kyle comes from a broken background, but turns out to be a bloody good wrestler and starts to turn Mike’s fortunes about.

Win Win is an incredibly well directed movie; the pacing, drama and comedic tones all hit the right mark. But what is especially good, is the focus on character development and the struggle in the ethics of what is right. The main character faces real life dilemmas and it’s the journey of realisation that makes Win Win such a great film. The comedy and drama of the film blend very well, with most of the laughs coming from humanising characteristics and situations.

I loved the brilliance in comedy of the adults all seemingly reliving their lives through Kyle, pinning their hopes on him. Terry Delfino (Bobby Canavale) was a great counterpart character. He has just come through a divorce as the movie begins and is going through a mid-life crisis. When he learns that Kyle is a good wrestler he suddenly becomes lively again and seems to regain his vitality. Emotionally he’s throwing his eggs in to one basket. This is a character that just needs to feel apart of something. The chemistry between him and Paul Giamatti worked well and there was a sense that this was a long standing friendship.

Kyle is a very trouble kid, but at the same time has the amazing quality of being sure of himself whilst being quite reserved and polite. This is played so very well by Alex Shaffer, who in real life was a champion wrestler himself. He starts as a runaway, his mom is in rehab and he has come to visit his grandfather who he has never met. But because the manner in which the character comes through is so natural and charming, he is just instantly like able. There is almost an innate sense that he is a good kid at heart, no matter what he does, even when he asks to smoke a cigarette.

Paul Giamatti as the misguided Mike Flaherty absolutely embodied his character. The father who just wants to do right, but at the same time needs to find some way to provide for his family. What works well is that he is never really morally black or white as he is constantly juggling a multitude of things, keeping up the appearance of everything is alright. He provided a very real life character, who isn’t without his faults but these are faults one can relate to.

Win Win comes in as a very ironic title.  It serves as a pressure cooker of events, but none over and above what one is capable of dealing with. The entire film serves as a reminder to this, even in small detail such as the clanking boiler, that throughout the film Mike Flaherty just needs to fix but just doesn’t get round to; instead opting for a patchwork solution. The acting all round was tremendous and provides some real heartfelt grounding of probably one of my favourite films of the year.

Movie Rating: 5/5

Win Win is out in cinemas 20th May.


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