It is no secret that Paul Newman was a god of acting, in rarefied air with those such as Peter O’Toole, Jack Nicholson, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon and Daniel Day Lewis. Newman’s resume is almost without peer, but combined with the rest of the stellar cast, this movie was a total joy to watch again. This was small town America, in the dead of winter, with everyone to know, and nowhere to hide. Paul Newman earned a Best Actor Nomination for this wonderful film, only to be robbed by Tom Hanks in the awful Forrest Gump.
Paul Newman was Donald Sullivan (Sully), a cantankerous 60 year old man, who had never really grown up. Sully was an off and on construction worker and handy-man with a very bad knee. He was constantly haunted by demons of the past because his father was a violent alcoholic that he could never forget or forgive. Since the acorn doesn’t fall far, Sully himself had a failed family, was divorced, and barely knew his son Peter (Dylan Walsh) or his grandsons. Peter and his wife were headed to North Bath, New York, the cold and snowy small town where everyone grew up anticipating a tense Thanksgiving Dinner with Sully’s ex. Sully’s life was a mess, but things would change as he eventually confronted his failed past.
Nobody’s Fool was about people, with great character development, but it was much more about relationships. No relationship was more bizarre and hilarious than the love/hate relationship between Sully and his former employer Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis). Sully was suing The Tip Top Construction Co. for on the job injuries. The town judge consistently ruled against him, since it was actually his drinking that caused the injury, and his inept, one-legged lawyer Wirf (Gene Saks) was of no help. Sully was constantly stealing Carl’s snowblower and Carl would just steal it back. It seemed to be a game they both enjoyed, that and their constant bantering, like this exchange.
Sully [about Toby] : Don’t tell me she’s pregnant?
Carl: Knocked up like a cheerleader. Eh, I suppose now you’re going to want to be godfather?
Sully: I can’t be the father AND the godfather…you got to goddamn do something!
Carl’s wife Toby flirted with Sully and he flirted back. She resented the fact that Carl was openly having an affair with his receptionist Ruby. Toby also wanted Sully to run away to Hawaii with her. What a hilarious mess this was. In spite of what you would think would be bitter acrimony between the adversaries, Carl and Sully routinely drank and play cards together. Carl slept on Sully’s couch since Toby had thrown Carl out of the house and changed the locks. In this small town, everyone knew what everyone else was doing, and no one attempted to hide it.
Even with the complicated relationships between Sully and the Roebucks, the Director Robert Benton skillfully developed many other relationships. This is film-making and character development at its very best. Sully rented an upstairs room from his 8th Grade School teacher (Jessica Tandy) and she doted on him as well as nagged him as if he were her son. Her real son, Clive was played by Josef Sommer (nicknamed The Bank by Sully) whom she didn’t like at all. All he was interested in was swindling everyone with his shady real estate investment deals. Sully was also best friends with Rub Squeers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the simple-minded construction helper who worshiped Sully.
The most important relationship story was Sully’s failed relationship with an abusive father, and his own failed marriage and family life. He apparently abandoned his family, including his son Peter, and barely knew him. Sully was eventually able to both throw off some ghosts of the past, represented brilliantly by the crumbling Victorian house he grew up in. He eventually established a bond with both his son and one grandson. Nobody’s Fool was all about realization, reflection and redemption, and Paul Newman soared in his performance as the central character. In spite of all his obvious flaws and shortcomings, Paul Newman made the audience just love his character Sully.
I’ve seen Nobody’s Fool several times and it never gets old. Paul Newman was his usual awesome self and Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) did a great job in the last movie she ever made. The supporting cast was magnificent, and I haven’t even mentioned Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was an unhinged cop and just another nemesis for Sully. In spite of the somber subject matter, Nobody’s Fool was uplifting and a joy to watch. It’s one of Paul Newman’s best.
9.0/10.0 with the Goatesians Seal of Approval for Excellence