13 September 2015 | secondtake
A touching story idea and some great small cast performances
Off the Black (2006)
A heartfelt, small film with two big performances. Nick Nolte certainly plays a role here as a troubled, unhealthy, good-hearted man that many might think is the real Nick Nolte, judging from the media. He's an umpire for high school baseball games, and he loves the game, and the kids, but he's such a curmudgeon and a drunk no one realizes his devotion. This drives him to seclusion and sadness.
A couple of chance events combine to get him in sync with a young pitcher, played with real charm and ease by Trevor Morgan who has been very active as a low profile child actor (including a role in "The Sixth Sense"). So this odd pairing of a flailing older man and a lonely and yearning 17 year old is about how people need each other and come to help each other even when they don't quite know why.
The story, by director James Ponsoldt, is interesting enough to keep you engaged, if not wholly convinced. It does follow some clichéd paths of conflict and resolution, including a little sentimentality, but it works. What really holds it all together, though, is Nolte. At first you think he's overplaying, then maybe (oddly) underplaying (since you might think it's just Nolte being Nolte). But there is a lot of subtlety to his movements and his face, and real feeling. It's worth seeing for him, if you are the type to enjoy that kind of specific appreciation.
It's also enjoyable in other ways, including a series of rather searing if brief appearances by Timothy Hutton. Good stuff, if not especially original or brilliant in the larger sense.