When stricken with a family tragedy, George becomes obsessed with taming a wild, red-tail hawk. In a tour-de-force performance he locks himself into a battle of wills with a fierce creature that would rather die than succumb.
George Gatling (Paul Giamatti) works as an upholsterer, but his true calling is the ancient art of falconry. He shares that passion with his beloved nephew, Fred (Michael Pitt), but their previous attempts to train a wild bird have all met with failure. The two capture a magnificent red-tailed hawk, but then a horrible tragedy devastates George. Utterly grief-stricken, he refuses to eat or sleep until he wins the hawk's trust.
At what point, in a person's mind, does obsession finally turn to madness? That seems to be the question raised by "The Hawk is Dying," a grimly depressing yet strangely compelling film about a man possibly being pushed towards insanity by the bizarre, sudden death of the mentally retarded nephew he helped to raise.
The always intriguing Paul Giamatti plays George Gattling, a single man who lives with his sister and her teenage son near Gainesville, Florida. Gattling is determined to capture a wild hawk and train it to do his bidding, despite the fact that all his earlier efforts in that direction have resulted in tragic failures. After his nephew somehow drowns in his own waterbed when he is with a local prostitute (whom Gattling set him up with), Gattling begins to slip further and further into apparent madness, cutting himself off from family members and friends and becoming ever more obsessed with taming the hawk he has captured.
This is no easy film for the casual moviegoer to sit through. It is harsh, grim and depressing, and we're not always sure what the overall purpose of the film is at any given moment. Still, paradoxically, it is this very air of enigma, coupled with Giamatti'a bravura, tour-de-force performance, that most gives one reason to check the movie out. Giamatti is totally riveting as a man driven by an almost manic need to establish control over another living creature, even if that means relinquishing the hold on his own sanity a bit to do so. He receives superb support from Rusty Schwimmer as his good-hearted but dimwitted sister, and Michelle Williams as the prostitute strangely embroiled in the boy's mysterious death. And writer/director Julian Goldberger, basing his work on the novel by Harry Crews, makes the most of the rural, exotic setting to help create an otherworldly mood for his bizarre little tale.
"The Hawk is Dying" is not for every taste or audience demographic, but for those searching for something a little different, out-of-the-mainstream and challenging, this one just might fit the bill.
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