Updated: Dec 15, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Paul Newman received his eighth Oscar nomination playing Sully Sullivan, a 60-something construction worker who’s estranged from his family. Pruitt Taylor Vince plays his best friend Rub Squeers.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 1994; R for profanity and nudity
Best extra: Commentary by filmmaker/film historian Jim Hemphill
IT SEEMED as though almost everybody loved “Nobody’s Fool,” a cozy redemption tale based on the bestselling novel by Richard Russo. Paul Newman received his 8th Oscar nomination, plus a Screen Actors Guild nod and Golden Globe, while winning Best Actor from the National Society of Film Critics for his portrayal of a character with parallels to many of the roles he played in his later years. This time he’s Sully, a 60-something, mildly curmudgeonly ne’er-do-well, who walked out on his family when his only child was young. Sully fumbles along, getting in and out of trouble, in the fictional small upstate New York town of North Bath, where he lives in a rented room. He’s made a meager living in construction work, but the film opens with him unemployed and trying to get compensation for a serious knee injury he’d gotten on the job. No luck. Later, by chance, he runs into his estranged son Peter (Dylan Walsh), and meets his two little grandsons for the first time. This sets up the rest of the film during which we watch Sully gradually ease into becoming the father he never was and the grandfather he can be, despite his chance to run off with his boss’ sexy wife played by Melanie Griffith. Right.
It’s pretty predictable (and not especially believable) fare, saved by director/screenwriter Robert Benton’s (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Twilight”) fine, often humorous script, and worthy performances by the stellar supporting cast which includes Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Josef Sommer, Margo Martindale, and Gene Saks. The production values are also tip-top, making for a pleasant evening’s entertainment.
(1) Jessica Tandy in her last on-screen performance as Sully’s landlady Miss Beryl. (2) Attorney friend Wirf (Gene Saks) tries to get an injury settlement for Sully’s bum knee. (3) Bruce Willis plays Carl Roebuck, who occasionally employs Sully. (4) Sully’s truck breaks down, so he hitches a ride. (5&6) The Iron House Bar, where Sully drinks Budweisers and plays poker with his friends.
VIDEO Paramount Pictures handled the 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) and the HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading for Kino Lorber, which provides top-notch clarity and saturated colors. The film grain is on the light side, a possible reduction by Paramount, but the presentation still has a gorgeous organic experience from Benton and cinematography by John Bailey (“In the Line of Fire,” “Silverado”) making it one of the best-mastered 4Ks of 2022. Highlights from the snow are nicely controlled and not blown out, while the shadows provide plenty of detail in the numerous interiors and nighttime scenes. The maximum HDR light level picks are at 3849 nits and averages 202 nits. The enclosed Blu-ray is also sourced from the new 4K master with first-rate detail. Strangely, this is its first 1080p release, surpassing the previous 2003 Paramount DVD by a mile. AUDIO The 4K and Blu-ray both are encoded with a six-channel DTS-HD Master soundtrack, giving Howard Shore’s (“The Lord of the Rings” films, “Hugo”) light and lyrical score, using woodwinds, accordion, piano, strings, and acoustic guitar, a gentle, uplifting sound. Most of the music cues and dialogue are front and center, with splashes of effects to the rear speakers.
(1) Toby Roebuck (Melanie Griffith) playfully flirts with Sully. (2) Sully and Carl (Bruce Willis) bicker over a snowblower — a running gag throughout the film. (3&4) Officer Raymer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is frustrated by Sully’s lack of respect. (5) Sully’s son Peter and grandson Will (Alexander Goodwin) have arrived in North Bath. (6) Sully reacts to Peter’s understandably angry lecture, after Sully had left Will out in the cold.
EXTRAS But the real reasons to love this Kino Lorber package are the extras. In addition to two interesting interviews – one with Russo and the other with supporting actress Catherine Dent – is one of the best feature commentaries available. Jim Hemphill never takes the easy path of describing what’s onscreen. He’s done a great deal of homework, and shows it with loads of information about every aspect of the “dramedy,” as he calls “Nobody’s Fool,” and the careers of each actor and significant crew member. Hemphill says the upstate New York location shooting was “brutal,” plagued with “17 snowstorms” and temperatures dropping to 18 degrees below zero. The weather, he notes, was also a “great inducement not to reshoot,” a change from Benton’s usual modus operandi. Hemphill points out that Bruce Willis, who was a huge star by then, agreed to be in the film for very little money, because he was so eager to work with Newman and Benton. Willis’ name isn’t even in the opening titles – per his request – to deflect any expectations about the film from his fans. Another nice bit of trivia shows Willis’ generosity: “He bought fur-lined parkas for members of the cast and crew.” Hemphill explains that Benton wrote the screenplay with Paul Newman in mind. Benton described the film as “family-oriented” and about all aspects of love, “human affection at its most profound,” and a strong sense of community. He said “Nobody’s Fool” was “meant to be an old-fashioned film,” both “ironic and sentimental.” During the filming, Benton and Newman had lunch together three times a week, when they would discuss Sully’s character, about which Newman had many good ideas. Benton adds Hemphill “struggled” with the screenplay, since he was adapting it from a 500-plus page novel, so Russo was eventually called in to help. Griffith was eager to work in the film, but admitted she was “terrified” to act opposite Newman, even though she’d done so years before in “The Drowning Pool.” At this point in his career, Newman was being offered parts in lots of great films, but turned most of them down. “Nobody’s Fool” was Jessica Tandy’s last movie. Hemphill says she went into the hospital soon after the shoot, which shocked the cast and crew, as they had no idea she was so ill. She died before the film’s release. Benton expected it to be rated PG-13, and was upset when it received an “R” – especially considering that rating was also assigned to films like “Natural Born Killers.” Benton hoped, quotes Hemphill, that people would see the film as “a nice chunk of life, about small town experiences.” He wanted to create a “human and friendly atmosphere filled with people who would seem comfortable to hang around with.” — Peggy Earle and Bill Kelley III
(1) Birdy (Margo Martindale) tends bar for some of her regulars. (2) Grandpa Sully gives little Will a treat. (3) Sully makes amends for neglecting Will by giving him a stopwatch as a device to help overcome his fears. (4) Sully helps Peter by giving him work on a job for Carl. (5) The broken-down empty house where Sully grew up evokes his memories of an abusive childhood.
(1) Beryl (Jessica Tandy) argues with her son Clive (Josef Sommer) the local banker. (2) Sully is released from a jail stay so he can be a pallbearer at the funeral of Hattie (Alice Drummond), a beloved townswoman with dementia. (3) Sully at his poker game. (4&5) Two of his opponents, at what is obviously a game of strip poker. (6) After Toby walks in on the game and sees what her husband is up to, she makes a tempting offer to Sully, who escorts her out.