Thursday, 4 September 2008

" Off The Black". A little indie film with a major heart.

A couple of shades short of a masterpiece, "Off The Black" is nonetheless a superb debut from a new director.

Notle is a Baseball Umpire - a 57-year old drunk by night barely holding it together on the field by day. At the very beginning of the movie, Nolte makes what most of the town considers to be a bad call on the pitch of a minor Leagues game about a young baseball hopefull played by Trevor Morgan (looks like the son of Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley). This bad decision by Nolte's charcater changes both of their lives. In revenge, Morgan and two of his mouthy team mates shower Nolte's home with loo rolls, spray paint his driveway with a "dick" drawing, brake his car window etc. But young baraclaved Morgan gets caught in the act by a boozed-up Nolte. Nolte says that he'll have to clean up the mess. Morgan's character David - being essentially a nice kid - agrees - and over the next few days, they enter into an unexpected and unlikely bond - David slowly becomes the son loser Nolte never had.

While this is going on, David's real father, Timothy Hutton, offers little help to either him or his lost little sister at home. David's sister is played by Sonia Feigelson who looks like a young Natalie Portman, just as beautiful and an actress that's definitely one to watch. Hutton's character is a man who's lost his wife two years back for inexplicable reasons (possibly mental illness, maybe drink) and seems to have mentally checked-out ever since. He offers his kids mumbles at the breakfast table, distant platitudes that have no teeth. He seems more lost in his own way than Nolte's character is - and gives the two kids worry instead of real guidance when they need it the most. Both the young Morgan and Kirkland are fantastic in these scenes - displaying a confidence and calm in the presence of such big hitters as Nolte and Hutton.

Nolte gets a diagnosis from his doctor that is unsurprising given that he has a cold tin in his hand for most of the movie. There isn't much time left. Nolte thens gets his annual high-school reunion of '66 invitation in the post which he would normally bin, but not this year. He persuades young David to accompany him to the reunion - pretending to be his son - the boy agrees. And so the story goes.

"Off The Black" is a Baseball term - it's the Umpire's call - and his call sends the Pitcher who threw the ball either into the ecstasy of winning or the misery of losing for his whole team. It's a film that has little real story but says a lot - and contains scene-stealing performances from the whole cast (most of whom are young) but especially from the gruff and growly Nolte - who could just stand there and you'd still love him!

Well worth checking out - and destined I suspect - to become a cult classic.

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