01/09/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis
, Melanie Griffith
Over time, the rhythms of small-town life and the eccentricities of its residents can grow on you. That's exactly what happens as you watch this sharply observant movie about a depressed and otherwise uninviting hamlet in Upstate New York and the roguish shenanigans of its most notorious ne'er-do-well (Newman). Nobody's Fool, directed with a loving hand by Robert Benton (who adapted the screenplay from a Richard Russo novel), is a terrific movie: sentimental without being saccharine, moving without being maudlin and generous toward its small-town characters without making them into cloying Capra clowns. Best of all, it's wickedly funny.
Newman, at the very top of his game, plays a 60-year-old laborer with a bum knee and an existence built around picking up odd jobs, playing poker at the local bar and needling his landlady (Tandy). He's a crusty charmer, but his life is devoted to merely getting by. "Hang in there—that's the sum of my wisdom on most subjects," he says. When the son (Dylan Walsh) he abandoned in infancy returns to town, Newman finds himself, against a lifetime of instinct and habit, longing for familial ties.
Reuniting father and son (and, here, grandson) is a plot familiar from countless movies (including 1984's Harry and Son, which Newman directed and starred in), but it seems completely fresh in Fool, thanks in large part to Newman's dead-on portrayal of a man who has settled for too little too long. The late Tandy shines as a retired teacher who keeps hoping, despite nearly five decades of evidence to the contrary, that Newman, her onetime pupil in eighth grade, will yet prove himself the hero. Griffith and Willis are fine (her) and dandy (him) in supporting roles as residents of the town. (R)