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The Independent Critic

Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Alexander Payne
Rated R
123 Mins.
Fox Searchlight
 "Sideways" Review 
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Fortunately, I have just seen Alexander Payne's latest film, "Sideways," starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh in a wonderful, Golden Globe nominated film that deals with two friends, Jack (Church) and Miles (Giamatti), going off on a road trip one week prior to Jack's wedding.

This California coast road trip is set to be a time of golf, wine, freedom and fun prior to Jack's settling down. What follows, as the two men meet Madsen and Oh, is insightful, funny, painful and enlightening to watch unfold onscreen.

"Sideways" has already garnered seven Golden Globe nominations including those for the performances of Church, Giamatti and Madsen along with Payne's direction, Rolfe Kent's score, the screenplay by Jim Taylor and Payne and the film itself for Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy.

After last year's stand-out performance in "American Splendor," Giamatti gives yet another incredible performance here as a man who is deeply troubled, flawed and profoundly human. It is a sin that Giamatti does not get greater roles...he's gathered quite the history of powerful performances and last year's snub for "American Splendor" virtually guarantees at least an Oscar nod for this performance. It is completely worthy and expected from this critic.

In a slightly more supporting role, the mostly television based Church gives a much more energized and complex performance as the less mature but much freer partner in crime here. The chemistry between Giamatti and Church is marvelous here and keeps the film from every dragging or slowing in what is, essentially, a fairly basic plot.

As the woman who join this great journey, Madsen and Oh are also wonderful to behold and both are, to me, quite the revelation. I've never fancied myself a Madsen fan, but she's simply wonderful here and I've constantly found myself irritated by Oh, however, she accurately captures her character's essence by combining a sizzling sexuality, an openness and, at times, a sort of viciousness that perfectly suits the scene.

"Sideways" is not a flashy film by any stretch of the imagination. It is not a film that relies on gimmicks or effects or distractions. It is a powerfully written story captured onscreen by Alexander Payne with a wondrous humanity and sensitivity. It is aided by the incredible cast, along with stellar production design and Rolfe Kent's score.

I've long loved films that center around a basic humanity...I prefer characters that are richly human and authentic to the core. Payne excels at bringing to life such characters and the team of Paul Giammatti and Thomas Haden Church works together to bring these wonderful characters to life.

"Sideways" is, for me, a Top 5 film for 2004 with Oscar nominations due for Giamatti, Church, Payne, Kent, Madsen and others within the production team. It is filmmaking at its finest and, while not quite what I'd consider a "perfect" film it is a richly entertaining, thought-provoking and moving film that I wholeheartedly recommend for the film viewer that embraces the simple beauty of a story unfolding with grace, dignity and honesty.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic