For performing half this film with a predatory bird perched and flapping angrily on his arm, Paul Giamatti deserves some sort of award. Does the Academy recognize excellence in animal handling? Based on a 1973 novel by Harry Crews (central Florida’s answer to Norman Mailer), The Hawk Is Dying stars Giamatti as George Gattling, a depression-prone auto upholsterer who lives with his overweight, tabloid-addicted sister, Precious (Schwimmer), and her autistic son, Fred (Pitt). George’s sole animating obsession is falconry, and when tragedy strikes this dysfunctional family, he retreats to the backyard, refusing to eat or sleep in a desperate attempt to tame the magnificent red-tailed hawk he’s caught.
No living actor can slouch as eloquently as Giamatti, and his George is a fine portrait of slope-shouldered, middle-aged pathos. But his performance gets lost in the muzzy screenplay and direction by Julian Goldberger (Trans), who weighs the film down with portentous dreams, indifferent pacing and plot confusions. (I never could figure out exactly who Michelle Williams’s character, lolling on a mattress and doing bong hits, was supposed to be.) Ironically, Hawk is never more alive than when the title character is onscreen, squawking or swooping or observing the humans with fierce, distrustful eyes. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.) — Tom Beer