Nick Nolte stars as Ray Cooke, a disheveled, grumpy high school umpire who forms an unlikely friendship with a troubled teenager, Dave Tibbel (Trevoe Morgan). As they grow more dependent on each other, Ray asks Dave to go... more » to his 40th high school reunion and pretend to be his son, a benevolent act of deception that winds up opening unexpected dimensions in the two men.« less
larry-411 | Philadelphia, PA United States | 04/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The experience of seeing "Off the Black" did what very few films have done for me lately; it left me with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face.
Within seconds, literally, we are introduced to young Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan). He's standing on the pitcher's mound, sweat beaded on his brow, studying the catcher's signals. His face completely fills the screen, as if the director is saying, "here you go. If you don't like what you see, this will be tough for you. If you do, sit back and watch the story develop." The story is that of a relationship between Dave and someone else, of course. But that someone is no blonde bombshell or voluptuous vixen. The other half of that relationship is Ray Cook (Nick Nolte), the ump standing behind home plate. But this is not "Brokeback Baseball," no, although surely that may enter your mind. It's something else. It's something rarely explored in American cinema, and it's bold and daring. It's a love story -- a good old-fashioned romance between two individuals who just happen to be male, and it's totally platonic. "Is this possible?" you may ask. It sure is, and "Off the Black" will prove it to you.
This film is made with passion and care. The soft, natural lighting of the interiors allows the full mystery of the characters to flourish. Single point lighting allows interplay of light and shadow which echoes the bright and dark sides of Dave and Ray, as well as the family members who surround them. Dave's father Tom (Timothy Hutton), withdrawn and distant. Sister Ashley (Sonia Feigelson), on the cusp of adulthood, gawky and afraid. All have secrets to tell, but don't, or won't, or can't. Cinematographer Tim Orr manages to find beauty in every little thing -- contrails, dripping gutters, siding and eaves and gently sloping roofs. And the countryside -- oh my. The lush scenery of the Catskills is indescribable. The setting is supposed to be Ponsoldt's Georgia home. But it could be anywhere where sea and sky and small towns predominate. Some of the shots are literally breathtaking. I found myself gasping several times. But what tugged at my heart even more was the sparse, almost homespun soundtrack. Punctuated by the occasional train whistle in the distance, the music never distracted, never shouted, "this is important." The contrast between the beauty of the setting and the ugliness of the fractured individuals who populate it is stark. It is on this canvas that writer-director James Ponsoldt, in his first feature, crafts a work of art that is simply one of the most poignant love stories imaginable. The protagonists meet, get tangled in tension and deception, and finally fall in love. Occasionally that's followed by breakup and tragedy. Ponsoldt has said that he actually wrote the film as a romantic love story. It just happened to be played by two male actors and is platonic.
To be honest, the film can be hard to watch at times. Nolte's portrayal of the seldom sober Ray is unsettling and painful, like a bad toothache that you can't wait to be pulled. Morgan's sensitive, vulnerable, sad-eyed Dave is like a puppy cowering beneath Ray's rolled up newspaper. But the bravado falls away on Ray's part, the sarcastic self-confidence and humor emerges from Dave, and the boy who needs a father draws closer to the man who needs a son. Finally, what makes this film so joyful to watch is the interplay between the two. It is all so natural that it seemed unscripted. As it turned out, much of it was. Ponsoldt has admitted that he gave free reign to Nolte and Morgan quite often, and some of the best lines in the film were theirs and theirs alone. And only the best directors are willing to step back and let that happen. And only the best actors can pull it off. Most will not be surprised at Nolte's performance -- he is, after all, a veteran if there ever was one. But "Off the Black" could be the vehicle which puts Trevor Morgan on filmgoers' radar, if it's not already. I'd seen his work before (he was Ponsoldt's first choice, largely based on his performance in the indie classic "Mean Creek"), but he carries this film so confidently and easily that it left me shaking my head in wonderment. And with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. "Off the Black" will do that to you."
It's a Triple
B. K. Stepp | USA | 04/19/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not quite a home-run but a very good indie debut by first time director James Ponsoldt. There are no 'bells and whistles' to be found, just a well told story and some very fine performances. Nolte, in particular, totally embodies his characters ailments and addictions. The viewer can almost hear his bones creak with each movement. His voice is like a rake over gravel with the volume turned down. A very brave and fine performance.
Also worthy of mention are a very natural performance by Trevor Morgan, an understated Timothy Hutton and a surprise (to me) appearance by Sally Kirkland. A very nice movie for fans of indie films or character studies."
It's All Nolte And Little Else
B. Merritt | WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California | 05/07/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Family is family, and sometimes that is unfortunate. Especially if one has to deal with an absent parent or a psychologically dysfunctional one ...or both. And such is the case for Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) who's mother left him and his kid sister with their severely depressed father played by a surprisingly effective Timothy Hutton. But much of this is slowly unveiled and OFF THE BLACK begins with an umpire making a pivotal call at a baseball game which ends up costing Dave Tibbel and his team their high school championship. The umpire is a gruff man named Ray Cook played by Nick Nolte (Over the Hedge (Widescreen Edition)).
It is Nolte who carries the entire film, really. And it probably wasn't that much of a stretch for him to play the drunken Cook character considering Nolte's past notices on the local news. Which, of course, made him the perfect casting choice. His gravelly voice and fading good looks matched Ray Cook's persona to a tee. When Ray finds a bunch of team members toilet-papering his home, he's able to catch one of them and, of course, it's Dave Tibbel. They strike up an interesting relationship. Dave needs something more of a father figure (which he's not getting at home), while Ray needs to connect with someone from the outside world in a meaningful way.
The two bond in father/son fashion one night after Ray takes Dave to his 40 year class reunion posing as Ray's son. It is here that Dave learns much about this enigmatic patriarchal man. Ray has a real son that he sends video recordings of himself to, only to have most of them returned unopened. Ray leans on Dave as a crutch and Dave does likewise to Ray, each needing and receiving something from the other. And it isn't always a "good" something. But it is a needful something that leads both of them to an understanding of what lay ahead. For Ray, it's not a good thing, as he recently received some bad news from his doctor. For Dave, we just aren't sure because his home-life seems totally dysfunctional.
Nolte's performance is outstanding, but it is his performance (and only his performance) that pulls the story along in any satisfying way. Trevor Morgan tries his damnedest to match Nolte but can't quite muster enough of himself to make his Dave character very sympathetic. Timothy Hutton did a fine job as the depressed father but has so little screen time that you never get a good sense of him. Dave's sister Ashley played by Sonia Feigelson is another example of a character that could've pulled in some emotional weight but was never given enough time on-screen.
So the entire production felt a bit stilted, hedging all of its bets on Nolte's shoulder ...which was probably for the best considering the overall story/script."
Fugitive Souls Connecting
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"James Ponsoldt is an impressive new talent whose gifts are well displayed in this very excellent small film, OFF THE BLACK. Ponsoldt is that rare combination of writer/director who has something unusual and significant to say and has the skills to tell his story with genuine sensitivity and with amazingly polished skill for one so new on the scene.
In a small town anywhere in the US aging alcoholic Ray Cook (Nick Nolte) lives alone, spends his time making videotapes of himself in conversation with his son from whom he has been separated for years. He also is the umpire for the local baseball team, the pitcher for whom is a teenage lad Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan), a boy whose mother deserted her family leaving Dave and his younger sister Ashley (Sonia Feigelson) in the care of functionless distant father (Timothy Hutton), a man who would rather avoid any conversation or emotional support with his confused kids. Dave and two friends visit Ray Cook's house one night, empty trash on his lawn, scratch graffiti on his driveway and throw toilet paper streaming from the tree and TV antennae. Ray is sober enough to catch one of them - Dave - and makes a pact with the boy that he will not call the cops if Dave promises to clean up Ray's cluttered yard.
Dave keeps his promise and gradually Ray and Dave warm to each other, each finding in the other the desperate needs to fill their empty lives - a 'son' and a 'father'. Ray convinces Dave to pose as his son at his high school reunion and the results of that experience coupled with numerous other incidents bond the two in one of the more tender love relationships ever captured on film. No, this film is not about physical attraction: it is about the kind of love that is a basic need in each of us and one that sadly is lacking in so very many lives today.
Nick Nolte delivers a superb performance and it is refreshing to see him once again prove that he is a fine character actor. Trevor Morgan (at age 20!) is a revelation, that kind of actor who apparently excels in his craft intuitively. The supporting cast is likewise first class and the musical score by Claire Campbell, Alex Neville, and Brian Petway fits the film like a glove. Tim Orr's cinematography is so attuned to the story that it feels like the camera is another character. OFF THE BLACK is yet another little Indie film that came in under the radar and deserves so much greater an audience than it has had. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, May 07"
Richard Schulman | Bristol | 11/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"NicK Nolte won the Academy Award for best actor in my dreams. No better performance in 2006. Nolte held me tranfixed. Ray asks the kid if he thought he was happy. No I am miserable. When you reach the bottom than you know what your missing in your life. Ray has cancer, no family and still Ray will reach out till he has been been beaten down so far and missing so much that its time to go. It's the backroads American story the one the ads on TV will never tell you. The rest of the cast is excellent. Everyone does a great job. The picture centers around Nolte. Like most of us his life is a little Off The Black."