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Film works because of the withered poignancy found in America's most tired actor
This low-key character study, mixing humor and depression to a tender effect, paints a picture of this odd coupling between an elderly bitter drunk and the teenage pitcher responsible for vandalizing his property with a fairly charming success rate. Off the Black is a noteworthy minor work that completely thrives off of the gruff charisma lead Nick Nolte injects into an otherwise typically off-beat, indie-mannered screenplay dabbling in peculiar friendship. The script, while appealing enough to attract the likes of a fine actor such as Nolte (a fact rendered even more impressive given it is a first time feature effort from newcomer James Ponsoldt), really would not have been able to shine unless this perfect spot of casting had fallen into place.
The movie works, and works best, only when Nolte's scenery chewing antics are present, and in retrospect, the entire piece, while gracefully dealing in issues of family, isolationism, and connectivity, is really just a 90 minute excuse for one of America's bona fide talents to flex his considerable sandpaper-throated heft around in a role that was clearly conceived with him in mind. It is not so much Nolte's outstanding talent as a diversified actor that has made him survive and stay relevant these few decades as it has been his continuing effort to refine his natural instincts to help make his character's all seem completely believable and unquestionably human. With his continued approach for taking lower profile but higher developed material as of late, this performance continues the respectably eclectic, under-the-radar winning streak with a front and center take that puts the legend square in his element. Add the believable high school sensitivities from costar Trevor Morgan into the mix and we have a pleasing relationship movie with some dynamics that really work.
So where does Off the Black fail? Quite simply in all other scenes not showcasing these two main characters together. Ponsoldt tries to detail the reality behind the young man's life with little success, instead falling prey to the usual pratfalls of underdeveloped subplot and supporting roles. Directed in a straightforward way though at times impressively framed, any immersion garnered throughout the modest film will remain Nick Nolte's chief responsibility.
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