Saturday, January 3, 2009

Film Review: WINNING (1969, James Goldstone)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner, Clu Gulager.
Tag-line: "Winning is...EVERYTHING."
Best one-liner: "I don't need any sugar in his gas tank 'cause I'm gonna beat that son-of-a-bitch anyway! "

I'm not going to go as far as to call this a 'lost masterpiece,' but this is a surprisingly solid little forgotten film. WINNING is dripping with avant-garde late 60's style; the racing scenes in particular are somehow reminiscent of John Frankenheimer's SECONDS, the unorthodox editing and visuals bring to mind the works of John Boorman (1968's POINT BLANK) or Nicolas Roeg (1970's PERFORMANCE). And as it turns out, surprisingly, this isn't really a racing movie. That's just the backdrop and our point of entry for a family/relationship drama (with a touch of the Cassavetes influence) centering around real-life couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. While I can't say I was sold 100% on the script, the volatile combination of Newman and Woodward's acting abilities and their natural chemistry carry it rather far, way further than the material has any right to go.

Then we also get the ever-mind-blowing Clu Gulager in a supporting role as Newman's hearing-impaired mechanic.

Clu is pretty understated here, but he does quite a lot with a pretty much throwaway role, in terms of exuding pathos, wearing a hearing aid, and making bizarre facial expressions when he works on car engines. In all, this is a three-star movie that gains it's fourth from being visually impressive, possessing some unexpected weight, and having the soothing presence of film legend Clu Gulager.

-Sean Gill

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