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NOBODY'S FOOL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith
Director: Robert Benton
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: September 9, 2003

“Doesn't it bother you that you haven't done more with the life God gave you?”

“Not often…now and then.”

Film ****

By now, everyone who is as every bit appreciative of cinema as I am knows that Paul Newman is nothing short of a cinematic, and American, icon. This is a notion that Nobody's Fool, the actor's 52nd feature, celebrates within every minute of its running time. Newman is simply one of the strongest actors of our time, and this film, which resulted in a much deserved Oscar nod for Best Actor, proves it. It shows Newman in what his perhaps his most unlikely screen characterization of his career. For someone who's made a legacy of serious-toned performance, not even the heaviest fan of Newman's could've prepared for what is the actor's most eccentric performance yet.

Newman plays Donald “Sully” Sullivan, a sixty year old man who has still yet to become a one hundred percent mature adult. Currently jobless, and living upstairs in a home owned by the friendly Ms. Beryl (Jessica Tandy), Sully endures a day to day life of doing nothing of sheer importance to himself or those around him. He has closed off contact with both his son and his ex-wife.

Sully remains jobless simply because he finds it hard to keep a steady job. Every so often, he is handed down odd jobs by local contractor Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis). Sully cannot stand the sight of Carl, mostly because he has been trying to bring up a lawsuit for years claiming that Carl owes him pay he was deserved following a knee injury that left the old man with a limp. Carl, who isn't much respectful of Sully, hires him on because he knows he can get the job done. It also gives Sully an opportunity to bring along his mentally slow friend, Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince) to help out on several jobs.

Elements of the past soon find their way back into Sully's life. His son, Peter (Dylan Walsh), arrives in town just in time for Thanksgiving, along with his two young sons. Peter, a college professor, is going through a marriage break up of his own, which in turn triggers memories, in particular the one when Sully walked out on his wife and Peter, who was only one year old at the time. Even in the midst of a harsh reunion, Peter feels obligated to turn to his father during a hard time.

On the side, Sully still has time to flirt with attractive women. His primary interest of attraction is Toby (Melanie Griffith), who just so happens to be the wife of his nemesis, Carl. The relationship never really blossoms, and yet one of the pleasures of the film is how it acknowledges the potential romance between the two.

For my money, Nobody's Fool is quite simply one of the most outstanding character pieces of the past decade. Newman is at his unyielding best in a tour de force that ranks with his greatest performances, such as The Verdict and The Hustler. Even Newman himself has said to be extremely proud of this film, so you know that's saying something. And he has every right to be proud.

Wonderfully written and directed by Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer), Nobody's Fool is, if anything, a beautifully executed celebration of one of the screen's most dynamic actors. Paul Newman, prior to this, had never played a character like Sully Sullivan, a brilliant exercise in humility, and for Newman to take on the role of such a person is a brave one indeed.

Video ***1/2

To be quite honest, I had my fingers crossed on the turnout of this presentation, and after watching it, I can honestly say that Paramount has delivered quite a remarkable look of a disc. It was a while since I last saw this picture, and I had forgotten how stunning the scenery was. Shot on location in the snowy landscapes of New York State, the anamorphic picture makes tremendously wonderful use of the snow-filled scenery. Image is impressively detailed, give an inch of grain or two, and remains a great deal crisp and clear throughout the presentation. Well done job, indeed!

Audio **1/2

This is strictly a dialogue-driven film, nothing more and nothing less. Having said that, I feel that the 5.1 track provided did the best it could in delivering a good instance of sound quality. Dialogue is heard very well, as expected, and several set pieces get some slight good sound range, though for the most part all action is limited to the front area.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

It took a while to get Nobody's Fool onto the DVD format, but it was well worth the wait, even in the midst of no extras on the side. The film is a one of a kind comedy-drama, which deserves a second look by those who've seen, and an immediate look by those who haven't.