on January 28, 2000 by Kevin Courrier
   "Simpatico" is a textbook example of how to waste a great cast. This adaptation of Sam Shepherd's play sidesteps dramatic realism and adorns the actors with the kind of heavy "meaningful" symbolism that sinks their performances. Instead of offering a compelling character study, "Simpatico" burdens us with overwrought ruminations on friendship, betrayal and corruption. The issues are writ large, diminishing the people on the screen and our interest in them.
   Lyle Carter (Jeff Bridges) is a multi-millionaire owner of a Kentucky horse farm, with a prize thoroughbred named Simpatico, while his former best friend Vinnie (Nick Nolte) is a down-on-his-luck barfly in California. Twenty years earlier, Vinnie and Lyle used to fix horse races, which ultimately destroyed an innocent man's life. When Vinnie wants to come clean, and ruin Carter and his wife (Sharon Stone), who Vinnie once loved, as well as offer restitution to Simms (Albert Finney), the man they framed, the score isn't settled as planned.
   This debut feature by British theatre director Matthew Warchus shows some visual imagination, and it's paced with the speed and grace of the Kentucky Derby. But this emblematic story is so caught up in its "meanings" that it bogs everything else down in improbabilities. And while Nolte, Bridges, Stone and Finney give their roles some flair, it doesn't help us understand them as people caught in a terrible bind. They're not motivated by their inner turmoil; they're only motivated by the writer's conceits. Catherine Keener, as a woman who falls between Lyle and Vinnie, develops an emotional resonance that occasionally transcends the weakness of her role. At moments, she ends up becoming more simpatico than anyone else in the movie.    Starring Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Catherine Keener and Albert Finney. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Written by David Nicholls and Matthew Warchus. Produced by Dan Lupovitz, Timm Oberwelland and Jean-Francois Fonlupt. A Fine Line release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 106 min.
Tags: Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone, Timm Oberwelland, Jean-Francois Fonlupt, Fine Line, Drama, Nick Nolte, Catherine Keener, Albert Finney. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Written by David Nicholls and Matthew Warchus. Produced by Dan Lupovitz

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