Blu-ray review: “Nobody’s Fool” (1994)

“Nobody’s Fool” (1994)

Drama

Running Time: 110 minutes

Written and directed by: Robert Benton based on Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Featuring: Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Dylan Walsh, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Gene Saks, Josef Sommer, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco

Carl Roebuck: “Sixty years old and still getting crushes on other men’s wives. I would hope by the time I’m your age, I’m a little smarter than that.”

Sully: “Can’t hurt to hope. You sure are off to a slow start.”

Released recently on Blu-ray on the Imprint label is the excellent drama “Nobody’s Fool” (1994) featuring Paul Newman in one of his best roles with an absolutely fantastic supporting cast that all raise their own performances to match the acting legend. The film itself is based on the novel by Richard Russo and while the screenplay and novel do differ the film retains the themes and nature of the source material. 

“Nobody’s Fool” is a film that is so well constructed and layered with multiple stories that it may seem that it was easy to construct or that this perceived simplicity reduces the film to something light and effortless. But this is not that film, what is easy is that watching this film draws you into these people’s lives, it becomes a genuine pleasure to spend time with them from the very start to the end. 

Both written and directed by Robert Benton who over his career made some of the greatest dramas seen on film and worked with some of the best actors in cinema. Not only was he at the beginning of the ‘New Hollywood’ by writing “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) but he was able to have a career right through to today with every iteration and business change in Hollywood with seemingly little effort. Not only that most of his films were successes moneywise but they become social juggernauts, just one example is the Oscar winning “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1982) which looked at divorce with a child at the centre.  

“Nobody’s Fool” is based around Donald “Sully” Sullivan a stubborn old reprobate living in the peaceful, snowy northern New York state village of North Bath. He freelances in the construction business, usually with his dim-witted friend Rub by his side. He is often at odds with Carl Roebuck, a local contractor, suing him at every opportunity for unpaid wages and disability. Sully’s one-legged lawyer Wirf is inept, and his lawsuits are repeatedly dismissed. As a way to irritate him, Sully openly flirts with Carl’s wife Toby at every opportunity (which she enjoys). He is a regular at the Iron Horse Saloon, where he often has drinks and plays cards with Wirf, Carl, Rub, Jocko the town pharmacist, and Ollie Quinn, the town’s Chief of Police. This is a film about Sully as well as all the people he encounters coupled with life in an actual small town, it is on one hand an imagined Americana but it is also something some people will be able to identify with which in turn is something quite pure. 

Paul Newman is simply brilliant as the rumpled Sully, he was nominate for his last Oscar for this role, that was the last of his eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor. Newman completely embodies Sully, wearing him as comfortably as he wears his scuffed and tattered old clothes, and never for a minute looks like he’s acting. Acerbic and cantankerous one minute and rueful, tender, and wise the next, Newman speaks sparingly, yet his actions speak volumes about who Sully was, who he is now, and who he hopes to become. I’ve always admired Newman’s work, but never more so than here. His performance is a master class in understatement. In her final role, the incredible Jessica Tandy is also incredible sparring with Newman like she is half her age. Then there is Bruce Willis who was paid scale for his role and was uncredited just for the chance to work with Newman, I mean who wouldn’t. Melanie Griffith makes an appearance as Toby, Willis’s wife who has an uneasy relationship with Sully and who plays the role as a sexy wife who wonders if she has settled for the wrong man, while Sully gives as good as he gets. Newman makes everyone better as I have already stated. 

As I have said this is such an easy movie to fall in love with, I remember seeing it in cinemas, and I was a huge Paul Newman fan, this only cemented his career at the time, he could go on to act in challenging movies until his death. Many similar films like “Nobody’s Fool” are not cynical at all and make us, in the times we live in, remind us of how we can be as people used to be and still can be. This is a movie that exists at a time when we as people were not so polarised, I can easily believe that the character’s in this film are both on the left or right but still get on and if I can say love each other on their own way. I recommend this film highly, it is a standout for all those involved and is a nadir for many of them.

Technical Commentary

Video

Paramount Pictures has been taking great care of its catalogue titles of late, and the top-notch 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of “Nobody’s Fool” is a perfect example of the studio’s superior stewardship. Vibrant, sharp, and packed with colorful accents that perk up the dreary winter canvas, this beautiful presentation instantly draws us into the intimate tale and holds our gaze from beginning to end. Faint grain preserves the film-like feel of this transfer that remains remarkably consistent throughout and faithfully honors John Bailey’s naturalistic cinematography.

Audio

Movies like “Nobody’s Fool” usually don’t require a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, but this mix subtly enhances the drama. Though most of the sound is front based, the lyrical score by Howard Shore enjoys a lovely surround presence. A wide dynamic scale handles all of its highs and lows without a hint of distortion, while sonic accents like a falling tree branch, shattering glass, cinder blocks crashing onto the flatbed of a pickup truck, the rumble of a snowblower, sirens, and a single gunshot are crisply rendered. Subtleties like footsteps crunching in the snow, faint honking horns, and the din of a diner are also distinct, and all the marvelous dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend. An LPCM 2.0 stereo track is also included for those who want to replicate the original theatrical experience, but hearing the score in multi-channel surround sound is a simple yet palpable pleasure that should not be missed.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary 
  • Featurette: “Nobody’s Fool: A Conversation with Catherine Dent” 
  • Featurette: “The Origins of Nobody’s Fool: A Conversation with Richard Russo” 
  • Featurette: “Somebody’s Spool: Interview with editor John Bloom” 
  • Theatrical Trailer

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