Off the Black

(2006) ** 1/2 R
95 min. ThinkFilm. Director: Jamie Ponsoldt. Cast: Sally Kirkland, Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Trevor Morgan, Sonia Feigelson.
For his eccentric indie Off the Black, James Ponsoldt casts Nick Nolte as a slovenly, sloppy-drunk old cuss who cleans up nice only to tape sad and lonely video diaries. In his capacity as a local umpire, Ray Cook (Nolte) runs afoul of teen pitcher Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan), but the two call a truce, bond, and wind up accompanying each other to the ump's fortieth high school reunion. The premise is strained and the narrative choppy and heavy-handed, but there's something primal and emotionally credible about a boy's need for a masculine role model and a man's need paternally to pass on hard-earned life lessons. The film's raison d'etre, Nolte gives a flawless performance that, aside from his lemon-colored hair, is perfectly natural. Puttering around to plant Post-It reminders (like "less T.V." on his idiot box), Nolte embodies his character's mercurial impulses, whether lying, "I'm a very lucky man," or admitting, "The older I get, the more I know that I don't know anyone." Timothy Hutton (as Dave's spacy father) and Sally Kirkland (as Ray's old flame) provide fleeting support, but this one's strictly for the Nolte fans.
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