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James Ponsoldt is an impressive new talent whose gifts are well displayed in this very excellent small film, OFF THE BLACK. Ponsoldt is that rare combination of writer/director who has something unusual and significant to say and has the skills to tell his story with genuine sensitivity and with amazingly polished skill for one so new on the scene.
In a small town anywhere in the US aging alcoholic Ray Cook (Nick Nolte) lives alone, spends his time making videotapes of himself in conversation with his son from whom he has been separated for years. He also is the umpire for the local baseball team, the pitcher for whom is a teenage lad Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan), a boy whose mother deserted her family leaving Dave and his younger sister Ashley (Sonia Feigelson) in the care of functionless distant father (Timothy Hutton), a man who would rather avoid any conversation or emotional support with his confused kids. Dave and two friends visit Ray Cook's house one night, empty trash on his lawn, scratch graffiti on his driveway and throw toilet paper streaming from the tree and TV antennae. Ray is sober enough to catch one of them - Dave - and makes a pact with the boy that he will not call the cops if Dave promises to clean up Ray's cluttered yard.
Dave keeps his promise and gradually Ray and Dave warm to each other, each finding in the other the desperate needs to fill their empty lives
a 'son' and a 'father'. Ray convinces Dave to pose as his son at his
high school reunion and the results of that experience coupled with numerous other incidents bond the two in one of the more tender love relationships ever captured on film. No, this film is not about physical attraction: it is about the kind of love that is a basic need in each of us and one that sadly is lacking in so very many lives today.
Nick Nolte delivers a superb performance and it is refreshing to see him once again prove that he is a fine character actor. Trevor Morgan (at age 20!) is a revelation, that kind of actor who apparently excels in his craft intuitively. The supporting cast is likewise first class and the musical score by Claire Campbell, Alex Neville, and Brian Petway fits the film like a glove. Tim Orr's cinematography is so attuned to the story that it feels like the camera is another character. OFF THE BLACK is yet another little Indie film that came in under the radar and deserves so much greater an audience than it has had. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
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