First-time filmmaker Steven Sawalich's biography of Richard Pimentel, who stumbled into a lifelong cause after losing his hearing in Vietnam, is supremely well-intentioned if not altogether successful.
Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) started life at a disadvantage: His father died young and his mother (Rebecca De Mornay) was mentally ill. He has a gift for public speaking, but his hopes of parlaying it into a college scholarship are dashed when his idol, Professor Ben Padrow (Hector Elizondo), dismisses him with the sharp advice that he learn something about life before trying to move people with prepared speeches. The year is 1969, and Pimentel impulsively enlists in the army, where an explosion leaves him with severe persistent tinnitus: He's all but deaf, and the army won't pay for his education because, as a particularly tactless pencil-pusher (Clint Howard) informs him, he's never going to get a job, so sending him to college would just be a waste of money. Pimentel learns to lip-read so successfully that he can conceal his disability; he goes to college on his own and befriends fellow student Art Honeyman (Michael Sheen), whose formidable wit and intelligence are largely overlooked because of the distorted speech and physical dysfunctions produced by cerebral palsy. Pimentel continues to hide his disability after graduation and gets a lucrative job in insurance, but because of Art he's constantly reminded of the brutal disdain with which unthinking people treat those whose disabilities are visible. After a particularly humiliating incident in which they're ordered to leave a restaurant because Art's appearance is upsetting the other customers they're arrested when they refuse Pimentel becomes radicalized. He quits his job and devotes himself to finding jobs for the disabled and for his fellow veterans who face similar prejudice. Pimentel eventually winds up writing California's state guidelines on employing the disabled and agitating on behalf of landmark legislation on behalf of the disabled, even as workaholism wreaks havoc on his personal life.
Welsh actor Sheen, best known for his costarring role as Tony Blair in THE QUEEN (2006), gives a remarkably convincing performance as Art. Yul Vazquez is equally strong as an alcoholic, bitterly funny veteran whose fortunes rise with Pimentel's, and while the film is undermined by excessive reliance on voice-over and the bluntly obvious use of (admittedly terrific) music of the 1960s and '70s to illustrate Pimentel's state of mind, his story is sufficiently remarkable that it shines though the clutter. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh