If you want someone to play a haggard, perpetually hungover loser, Nick Nolte is your guy. Few actors can make you believe they’ve just come off a weeklong bender as well as this grizzled, growling actor, something that James Ponsoldt’s indie squeezes for every little drop it’s worth. A golden-boy baseball player in his youth, Nolte’s Ray Cook now umpires high-school games when he’s not drinking himself into sweet oblivion. Pity the poor young whippersnapper (Morgan) who gets caught vandalizing Cook’s house; his penance is keeping the bitter sod company while working off the debt. Things get even stickier once Cook offers to wipe the slate clean if the boy pretends to be Ray Jr. at the old man’s upcoming high-school reunion.
Despite cameo appearances by a few movie-of-the-week conventions—cancer, a catatonic dad (Hutton)—Off the Black wants nothing more than to be a quiet character study of two people who bond through loneliness. But while its restraint is admirable, there’s a fine line between understated and inert; judging from the way the movie seems enamored of its own stillness, Ponsoldt still has to learn where one ends and the other begins. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear