Paramount // 1994 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 2nd, 2003
Worn to perfection.
At his 40th year of filmmaking, Paul Newman earned himself yet another Academy Award nomination for his performance as a down-on-his-luck construction worker in the warmly entertaining Nobody's Fool. Based on the novel by Richard Russo and written for the screen/directed by Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Twilight), Nobody's Fool arrives on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
For Sully (Newman), life is one hard case after another. He's got a bum knee, an incompetent, one-legged lawyer working for him, a half-witted best friend named Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity), and a cranky old landlady (the late Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy) who also used to be his 8th grade teacher. Sully flutters in and out of work at a construction business run by Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis, in a fine supporting role), a philandering schlub who can't stay faithful to his gentle and patient wife (Melanie Griffith, Working Girl). Though he's made a life out of making bad decisions, Sully gets a chance to make things right when his son, Peter (Dylan Walsh, Congo), and grandson come into town on an unexpected Thanksgiving visit. Confronted with a past he ran away from and a future that's uncertain, Sully finds himself at a new crossroad with heavy decisions to make.
I find it hard to talk at length about a movie I really love. It may be because I feel that all I do is prattle on endlessly about how great it is. I often feel that critics who review films directly from the theaters have a slightly easier job than DVD reviewers -- they don't have the curse of reviewing a movie they've seen countless times and therefore fallen in love with. You see, when I discuss something like Back to the Future or The Shawshank Redemption with a friend, I talk about all the great things going on in the movie. However, when I stop and think about it I can't find any big faults. I think that has to do with how deeply embedded the movie is in my consciousness. It's a lot like being in a good marriage -- remember all the good things about your spouse and forget the bad.
I bring this up because Nobody's Fool is one of those movies. I saw this film almost a decade ago in theaters and was immediately enchanted by it. Nobody's Fool is the movie that turned me on to Paul Newman -- in that following year I sat down and watched Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hustler, and countless others Newman movies. What makes something like Nobody's Fool so good is that you never get the impression that anyone is acting. Newman gives one of his best performances as Sully, a man who has had the misfortune of being unable to handle the responsibilities of adulthood. Though Sully is a very likable character, he's not a great man -- he's abandoned his family and lives life as a cranky cripple (though one might argue a bum knee is not the worst luck one could acquire). Yet Newman is able to make Sully one of the most endearing characters in recent memory -- his Oscar nod in '94 was well deserved. The dialogue in the film is at the same time sly and poignant. When asked by his landlady if Sully has regrets about how little he's done with his life, he responds with a smirk, "Not often," and then with a light, thoughtful pause, "sometimes." It's a moment that only an actor like Paul Newman can successfully sell us.
However, a movie as good as Nobody's Fool is also due in part to the wonderful supporting cast. Superstars Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith took a backseat to Newman and produced some of the best work of their careers. Griffith is especially enchanting. Shunning her Hollywood image, she falls into the role of a small town wife with ease. Even the minor characters shine -- Philip Bosco and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a grumpy judge and incompetent cop, respectively, provide the film with one of its funniest moments. And then there is the late Jessica Tandy as Sully's ex-teacher/landlord, a woman who sees in Sully the man he could have been. Their relationship provides the story with a solid heart. The screenplay, based on the acclaimed novel by Richard Russo, is a truly a slice-of-life comedy. Robert Benton's direction is assured and restrained -- he knows that this material doesn't need a heavy showman to be affective.
Are there any flaws in Nobody's Fool? Oh I suppose one or two, but the good so outweighs the bad that I'm having a hard time coming up with anything negative to say. Nearing the end of his career, Newman is still a presence to be reckoned with on screen. With Nobody's Fool he weaves a magic spell with the help of a funny, affecting screenplay and a top notch supporting cast. You'd be a fool to miss it.
Nobody's Fool is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a fine job at making sure this transfer is void of any major defects. This film is now nearly a decade in age, and while there are a few slight imperfections in the image (a tiny amount dirt and edge enhancement), overall this is a good looking image. The colors are all brightly even with the black levels/shadow detail well defined. Though Nobody's Fool may not have the shiny excitement of The Lord of the Rings flicks, this transfer will most certainly please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. While it's nice to have a 5.1 mix for this film, it wasn't really required -- there aren't a lot of instances where directional effects are utilized. The biggest boost comes in the form of Howard Shore's simplistic yet effective music score. While some ambient noise and background effects exist, this 5.1 tends to be very front heavy. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles, as well as a Dolby 2.0 Surround track in English.
Disappointingly, Paramount has opted to make this a completely bare bones disc. Not even a theatrical trailer has been included. Bummer.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who is either a Paul Newman fan or in the mood for a film with great performances and an offbeat attitude. Nobody's Fool was one of the best films of 1994. Though I'm happy with the video and audio portions of this disc, it would have been a sweet treat had Paramount decided to also tack on a few extra features.
Nobody's Fool is worth the rental, if not the purchase. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R