The Black (2006/DVD-Video)
Picture: B Sound:
C+ Extras: B- Film: B
After having some "terrible experiences" while making
big-studio movies -- most notably co-starring with Julia Roberts in the failed
romantic comedy I Love Trouble (1994) -- Nick Nolte
decided to sacrifice the big paydays and stick to doing independent
films. Over the past decade, aside from taking a supporting role in
2003's The Hulk, he's
kept his word, and has proven himself an actor with a lot of artistic
The salaries aren't nearly as high, but indie films give
Nolte the opportunity to play the kind of interesting characters he'd never be
able to portray in the increasingly shallow, youth-friendly movies coming out
of the major studios today. One such character is Ray Cook in
writer-director James Ponsoldt's promising first feature film, Off the Black.
Ray is the kind of deeply unhappy, solitary character
movies are seldom about anymore, living the kind of lower-middle-class
life seldom explored in movies that aren't crime-related.
Living a life of quiet desperation in a small,
upper-New York state town, Ray works alone by day crushing old cars in a
junkyard, and makes a few extra bucks on the side umpiring high-school
baseball games -- the term "off the black" means a pitch that is
nearly a strike that's called a ball because it barely misses the outer-most
black portion of the plate.
When Ray calls a close pitch a ball on high-school pitcher Dave
Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) that results in him walking in the winning run, the
whole town is seemingly angry at Ray. After all, the pitch in question
was just "off the black." Later that night, while spending the
evening the way he usually does -- sitting watching television until he drinks
enough beer to pass out -- Ray awakens to find a few masked young men
vandalizing his property. Ray catches one of the young vandals, who turns out
to be none other than Dave Tibbel.
Ray won't call the cops if the kid promises to clean up the mess,
and eventually gets around to making a proposition: For one
night, he asks Dave to masquerade as his son at
his 40th high-school reunion. It's been all downhill for Ray since
high school, and he wants just one last chance to recapture what it felt like
to be the star athlete in high school without his former classmates
knowing how miserable life's become for him. Dave reluctantly
agrees, but soon finds himself enjoying Ray's company, and the
two are hanging out. It's the most socializing Ray has done in years.
Turns out Ray has a real son not much older than Dave that he
hasn't seen in years. He regularly makes videotapes of himself talking
into the camera, and then sends the tapes to his estranged son. Most of
the tapes come back unopened with no reply, but every once in a while one
doesn't come back, which is enough incentive for Ray to keep making them.
Off the Black is a modest, leisurely and sad
slice of life about the unlikely friendship between a young man with
a lot of living and learning to do and an older man who's experienced many
disappointments in life, and doesn't have much time left. Ray, you
see, has a terminal illness that is well-advanced. He knows
his time is limited.
We discover that young Dave's life ain't exactly a bowl of
cherries either. A few years back, Dave's mother ran out on the
family, leaving Dave's father (Timothy Hutton, who co-starred with Nolte in
Sidney Lumet's Q & A)
to raise Dave and his little sister (Sonia Feigelson). Dave's dad has
been an emotional cripple ever since, and Dave's anger about his
father's inability to communicate makes Ray a welcome surrogate --
at least Ray talks to him.
Ponsoldt's debut is full of quiet heartache, and
effectively establishes a consistent melancholy tone. And
Nolte is exceptional. You can just see the pain in his face.
He's so honest and real here that it leaves you wanting more of his
character. The film runs just 91 minutes, and that's why the
introduction of a potential love interest for Dave (a single mom played
by Rosemarie DeWitt) seems extraneous. Her few scenes take up valuable
screen time that should have remained focused on Ray.
THINKFilm’s DVD of Off
the Black presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound. The picture quality is quite good,
but the sound is a bit weak, likely due to the low budget nature of the
production. Extras include a feature-length audio commentary by Ponsoldt,
a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
- Chuck O'Leary