Nobody's Fool (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Nobody's Fool is about as sublime a motion picture as is likely to come out of Hollywood. With a structure that contravenes the norm, this film concentrates on character first, letting the plot fall naturally into place. Situations are forced on neither the film's inhabitants nor on those in the audience. It's rare to sit through a drama and not feel manipulated, but the feelings generated by Robert Benton's movie are entirely natural, and likely to bring a smile to the heart.

Paul Newman gives an unforgettable performance as Donald Sullivan (or Sully, as most people know him), a cantankerous aging man living in the small, snowbound town of North Bath, New York. With the spirit of a mischievous teenager but the body of a sixty year old, Sully has the kind of infectious presence that, in his own words, "grows on you." He delights in flirting with women half his age, and engages in a game of theft where he and his sometimes-boss Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis) take turns devising creative means by which to steal a snow blower from one another.

Nobody's Fool is as much about regrets as about choices made; as much about the road not taken as the one traveled. It's about families broken apart, and parent/child relationships mended. Sully's father was a ruthless, violent drunk whom he never forgave, and that is perhaps why he was such a poor father to his own son, Peter (Dylan Walsh). When the boy was just one year old, Sully walked out on him and his mother. Now, decades later, the abandoning father is trying to make amends -- not only to his son, but to his grandchildren as well.

For those seeking a film with a remarkable central character, Nobody's Fool is not to be missed. Not only does it offer the best in easygoing, unconfrontational drama, but the story is told with a sense of wry, intelligent humor. In fact, the movie is so perfectly attuned to its audience that it can display Melanie Griffith's breasts without the moment's self-consciousness that so often accompanies nudity in American motion pictures.

Speaking of Griffith, this is the best acting she has done in a long time. After a string of lackluster comedies and ineffective thrillers, Nobody's Fool offers a role for which she is suited. Playing the dowdy wife of a perpetual womanizer, she finds the right mixture of strength and pathos.

Also holding his own is Bruce Willis, here in his second consecutive solid performance (on the heels of Pulp Fiction). Jessica Tandy, to whom the film is dedicated, is as effective as ever. Of course, no one can quite match Newman, who shows a chameleon-like ability to shed his star image and don a most atypical personality. This is the sort of part normally associated with a character actor of Albert Finney's status.

Quiet and enchanting in its simplicity, Nobody's Fool is a joy. Admittedly, it meanders a bit, but that's part of its charm. The intelligent sensitivity of the script, coupled with Newman's powerfully understated performance, make this motion picture special. There aren't many of them like this out there.

Nobody's Fool (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 1995-01-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Content)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1