Nobody's Fool

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Robert Benton Films
Feast of Love
Robert Benton directs this Oregon-set meditation on the permutations of love among a constellation of characters.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 5, 2007

The Human Stain
Despite some terrific moments, Philip Roth's words fail to stick to the screen.

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 14, 2003

More by Steve Davis
The Stranger by the Shore
A heartfelt queer first romance in this gorgeous anime

July 9, 2021

The Boss Baby: Family Business
Why is a movie about a talking baby this convoluted?

July 2, 2021


Nobody's Fool, Robert Benton, Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Dylan Walsh, Gene Saks, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Philip Bosco, Josef Sommer

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle