1995 Directed by Robert Benton. Starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Dylan Walsh, Gene Saks, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Philip Bosco, Josef Sommer.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Jan. 20, 1995
Nothing much seems to happen in Nobody's Fool, but appearances are deceiving: this subtly engaging film about a man finding redemption relatively late in the winter of his life speaks to the simple truths in the most mundane of human experience. Set in a cold, depressed town in upstate New York, Nobody's Fool “grows on you,” to use a phrase that Donald “Sully” Sullivan ‹ the 60-year-old ne'er-do-well of the film's title ‹ uses to explain why other people tolerate (and love) him, despite his shortcomings. The small-town friendships depicted here are strikingly odd at first, but their eccentricities ultimately make sense. The ties that bind are often worn and frayed, but they are ‹ perhaps by default ‹ for a lifetime. Indiscretions are rarely kept secret, loyalties are tested daily, and the golden rule ensures, in a perversely comforting way, that someone is always looking out for someone else. (The tug-of-war over a snowmobile in the course of the movie comically typifies this esprit de corps.) The symbiotic relationships in Nobody's Fool are expertly realized in the rapport between Newman and the other actors, notably Tandy, Willis, Griffith, and Vince, all of whom give wonderfully nuanced performances. (It's fitting that Walsh, as the estranged son whom Sully abandoned when he was only a year old, doesn't connect with Newman as the others do.) With the simple cock of an eyebrow or the reflexive squint of an eye, Newman can express a range of reactions and emotions ‹ he is truly the consummate screen actor. With his hair nearly white and his voice deeper and huskier, he has distinctively aged in a way that hasn't hindered his ability to play loners like Sully, men who mistakenly believe that they have no use for others and that others have no use for them. Director Benton's style in Nobody's Fool is controlled, almost austere, but it allows the actors to breathe familiar life into their roles. It's a fresh air they breathe, a rejuvenating one that affirms the virtues of a simple story about everyday people.