Off the Black

Director: James Pansoldt

First time feature filmmaker James Pansoldt’s moving yet depressing character study in the vein of Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester tells the story of Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan), a high school pitcher whose hopes of playing in the state finals are dashed when sad-sack umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte) calls the controversial last pitch of the game a ball instead of a strike as it was just off the black edge of home plate. Upset by the team’s elimination from competition, Dave and his friends pull an elaborate prank spreading toilet paper through the trees and vandalizing the ump’s place including breaking his car window. When Dave is caught in the act by Cook after he awakened from his drunken stupor, he settles the boy down to chat and figure out a reasonable way to make amends. Not really contented in his home life with a depressive father (Timothy Hutton) who has withdrawn into himself since his mother left two years ago, leaving Dave to care for his younger sister whom he chauffeurs to and from school, Dave returns the next day to the ump’s home to clean up the mess. After striking up an agreement to rectify the vandalism, Dave finds himself propositioned by the umpire, (whom audiences quickly learn is terminally ill) to pretend to be his son at his fortieth high school reunion. Soon, they’re spending more time together—not quite the high quality cliched time we’re used to in the genre, however this film makes it a bit more believable that the lost souls would bond although admittedly there are plot strands that go nowhere such as Dave’s flirtation with an older single diabetic mother and of course, his dysfunctional home life. It’s a sad film overall, yet it makes a wonderful showcase for Nolte that earned him and the film much critical praise.