Viewed two nights ago (January 5, 2009): Off the Black, directed by James Ponsoldt, starring Nick Nolte and Trevor Morgan, and including support by Timothy Hutton and Sonia Feigelson.
The movie opens with a close-up of Dave Tibbel (played by Trevor Morgan) pitching in a game of baseball in some unspecified teenage league. After some deliberation, he throws his pitch, which is called a game-ending ball four by umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte). From immediate fan and player reactions we learn that this is a controversial call that ends play-off hopes for the losing team. Several of the players, including Dave Tibbel, react by vandalizing Ray’s house that night. Ray catches just Dave in the act, and he makes Dave promise to come back and work on undoing the damage and mischief that was done. Thus begins a relationship between Ray, an aging man with health problems who spends much of his time drinking, and Dave, your typical good-hearted movie teenager with problems of his own.
This is what you would call a quiet movie, about the relationship that builds between these two men. Each has difficult family and personal situations that are tapped into to some degree, but not completely explored. That’s OK: not every piece of background has to be explained in detail; we learn little bits about each character as the characters themselves learn them. In fact that’s one of the idioms of this movie. Things happen or are encountered or mentioned, but often there are no attempts to completely explore them, no speeches of exposition, no flashbacks to fill us in. I think this is a fine way of dealing with the idea of things that simply exist, that are important to the characters, and that flesh out the story without getting us tangled up in them. Sometimes this is a bit confusing, until you realize that we don’t really need to know every detail, much as the characters don’t often know details about each other.
There is an odd development as Ray asks Dave to do him a particularly unusual favor, and the ending of the movie provides a poignant twist and a meaning to the title.
I had not heard of this movie before I stumbled upon it, and I watched it mainly because its description mentioned baseball, Nick Nolte, and Timothy Hutton. Good call, I think; it was one of the types of movie that I particularly enjoy: deliberately (I hate to say “slowly”) paced with attention on characters and interactions.
I should note that Timothy Hutton as Dave’s father and, particulary, Sonia Feigelson as Dave’s sister both do excellent jobs.