Saturday, July 2, 2011
Movies featuring lawyers often implicate legal ethics. But rarely have I seen a film that better captures a lawyer’s confrontation with and destructive resolution of ethical responsibilities than “Win Win,” a small-scale, relatively low-budget (and little-seen) “dramedy” starring Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti as the ethically challenged solo lawyer who also coaches the local high-school wrestling team; Oscar- and Tony-nominee Amy Ryan as his wife, from whom Giamatti hides the potentially destructive decisions he makes until he can’t hide them any longer; Emmy-nominee Jeffrey Tambor (who played a distraught criminal-defense lawyer in “. . . And Justice for All,” which starred Al Pacino as a criminal-defense lawyer confronting and resolving his own ethical dilemma) as a CPA who shares an office and wrestling-coach responsibilities with Giamatti; and Oscar-nominee Burt Young as a Giamatti client whose circumstances set the stage for Giamatti’s ethical collapse. The film doesn’t confine the ethical issues to those Giamatti confronts as a lawyer; they extend to his handling of his coaching responsibilities as well, highlighting (in my view) the point that a person ultimately can’t resolve ethical dilemmas in one arena by standards different from those he or she will apply in a different arena. All of this occurs in the context of a well-told story that doesn’t preach, instead allowing the consequences of a poor ethical (and moral) choice to unfold naturally and believably.
I’ve seen “Win Win” twice — once by myself a few weeks ago while visiting my parents in upstate New York, and again last week with my wife (to whom I’d been touting the film as a worthy contender in several Oscar categories, including Best Picture). My wife and I see a lot of movies; we have a presumptive “movie date night” each week that we manage to keep somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the time during a year, and when we discuss the movie as we drive home from the theater, she’s an unfailingly keen observer and critic of the film we’ve just seen. So I was pleased that she shared my enthusiasm for “Win Win.” Four stars, two thumbs up — whatever the rating system, both of us put the movie in the highest category. With a superb cast (including the unknowns), a terrific script, and excellent direction, the film brings the elements of fine moviemaking together about as flawlessly as any I’ve seen in a long time; if anything, my second viewing enhanced my appreciation for its excellence. (Of course, movie preferences are highly subjective, so YMMV — but not by much, I hope.)