Powerful performances and a certain swampy location drive 'Hawk'

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

If ever there was a homegrown Gainesville movie, "The Hawk is Dying" is it.

Not only is the film set in Gainesville, not only was it partially filmed in Gainesville, but it is also based upon the novel of the same name by UF grad and former professor Harry Crews.

The actors involved may not be local, but almost everything else is. And that gives "The Hawk" a comfortable feel for Gainesville natives. But that is the only thing comfortable about this film.

"The Hawk is Dying" stars Paul Giamatti as George Gatling, a Gainesville man who owns a car upholstery business. George leads a life of quiet desperation, living with his sister and her autistic son and constantly being mocked for his unusual hobby - George catches hawks and tries to train them.

"Tries" is the operative word in that sentence. George has never had much luck in training a hawk, and if a hawk isn't properly trained to live in captivity, it dies. Early in the movie, George captures an amazing red-tailed hawk, much to the chagrin of his friends and family.

Due to a catastrophic personal tragedy, George vows to train this hawk. This means he will not eat until the bird eats, will not sleep until the bird is trained. Grief-stricken, he projects all of his pain and emotion onto the hawk, trying to escape the grim reality of his life through his avian obsession.

"The Hawk is Dying" is not a fun movie, but it is a powerful one. The performances are all quite good, not surprising given the depth of talent in this cast. Robert Wisdom, Rusty Schwimmer, and Michael Pitt all do their part to create characters that don't seem like characters at all, but like real people.

This is even more true of the leads, Giamatti and Michelle Williams as Betty, a young woman drawn to the bizarre George and his family. Giamatti and Williams are both Oscar nominees, and they show why with their work in this picture.

Giamatti proves that he is one of the best character actors in the business. He is fearless in his portrayal of George, a deeply sad man who has become so alone that he finds it hard to communicate with other people. The brilliance of his work here is that while George is sympathetic, he falls shy of being likable. Instead of playing a typical leading man, Giamatti plays a man who would probably make you uncomfortable when you tried to talk to him.

And so it goes with the movie itself -- "The Hawk is Dying" is interesting, it is remarkably well acted, and at no point does it feel like a run-of-the-mill movie. But at the same time, it is an uncomfortable movie, packed to the brim with pain, grief, and awkwardness.

Due to an abbreviated shooting schedule (the entire film was made in 24 days, less time than it takes George Lucas to film is credits) and a small budget, "The Hawk" feels amateurish at times. And perhaps the novel itself was not meant to be made as a movie, as the long monologues often seem stilted and forced.

But these quibbles aside, "The Hawk is Dying" is a memorable little movie -- especially for Gainesvillians.

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