This would make an excellent double-feature with last week’s Twilight, which was also a Robert Benton/Richard Russo/Paul Newman work. The two of them together are more than enough to make you wish these three had been able to work together more often.
This is an adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel, and it has literary pacing–it’s not just an examination of one man, Paul Newman’s irascible Sully, but also of the community that surrounds him. He’s constantly filing lawsuits against Carl Roebuck (a very good, low-key Bruce Willis), a contractor, and their relationship is such that Sully can accuse Carl of cheating him and then also still show up at his place and get work; when Carl’s marriage goes on the rocks, Carl lets himself into Sully’s place and sleeps on his couch. Sully has a tender friendship with his elderly landlady, Beryl Peoples (Jessica Tandy, in a beautiful final performance) and a testy feud with a jackass local cop played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. His estranged adult son (Dylan Walsh) is suddenly back in his life, and there’s a chance that Sully might be able to build a relationship with him after all–if, that is, he doesn’t fuck it up, when he’s a man who has done more than his share of fucking up over the years.
Plot isn’t the focus here. This is just a warm, nuanced depiction of a wintry small town and its inhabitants, and it’s sympathetic to its characters and their milieu without being cutesy or too simplistic. There are problems here that can’t be solved, only lived with. Not every marriage can be salvaged, not every opportunity can be taken, and a favor from a dear friend can still feel like a millstone around your neck. But you can win the occasional bet, mend the occasional relationship, and adopt the occasional dog.
It’s an actor’s movie, full of subtly great performances. Benton packed in so many actors I like to see that you even have Margo Martindale as a bartender. This is maybe a particularly good film to watch right now–when we can’t have much face-to-face contact with the people in our lives, it’s good to have something to remind you of the density and complexity of a community. It’s a whole vicarious social life, good and bad, packed into a quiet but meaningful 110 minutes.