From left: Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer in "Win, Win"...

From left: Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer in "Win, Win" directed by Thomas McCarthy, based from a real life story about a wrestling coach in Long Island New York. . In Theatres on March 18, 2011. Photo Credit: Kimberly Wright / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp Credit: Kimberly Wright / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp/

 Even though his back is turned to us as he jogs through the opening credits of "Win Win," Paul Giamatti conveys everything we need to know about Mike Flaherty, a flawed, failing lawyer. It's in his stride: slow, heavy, struggling.

Giamatti excels at portraying guys like Mike, whose practice in New Providence, N.J. (the film was shot largely in Rockville Centre), is on the skids and whose side gig as a high-school wrestling coach is producing a string of losses. Desperate for money, Mike volunteers to care for an elderly client, Leo Poplar (Burt Young), which means an easy $1,500 a month -- even easier after Mike tricks the foggy-brained senior into entering a retirement home.

Soon, Leo's grandson, Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer), shows up. He's a teen runaway with a drug-addicted mother (Melanie Lynskey), but Mike and his wife (Amy Ryan) take him in. Kyle also happens to be a phenomenal wrestler who gives Mike's dispirited team a shot of confidence.

What's wrong with this picture? Not the acting, nor the capable direction of Tom McCarthy (2008's "The Visitor"). It's the script, by McCarthy and Joe Tiboni, which is overloaded with multiple story lines and unnecessary characters (Mike's divorced friend, played by Bobby Cannavale, for one). There's also the nagging question of Mike's crime, which doesn't bother the film as much as it should: What kind of protagonist defrauds the elderly?

By definition, though, any movie with Giamatti can't be all bad. "Win Win" is lucky to have him.

 

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