USA/France 1999

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Lyle Carter is a millionaire businessman who breeds and trains thoroughbreds on his estate in Lexington, Kentucky. He is about to sell Simpatico, a highly valued stallion, when he receives a call from his old friend Vinnie who claims he has been arrested. Years before, Vinnie and Carter collaborated on a horse-racing scam. Their plan was rumbled by racing commissioner Simms, but they blackmailed him by photographing him having sex with Rosie, Vinnie's girlfriend at the time. Rosie informed the racing authorities Simms was crooked and his career was ruined.

Vinnie, now living in squalor in Cucamonga, Ca., wants to make up with Simms. Worried this might jeopardise his business empire, Carter flies out to California to stop him. Vinnie steals Carter's plane ticket and flies back to Kentucky where he tracks down Simms who is annoyed and wants nothing to do with him. When Carter realises what Vinnie is up to, he persuades Vinnie's friend Cecilia to meet Simms with a suitcase full of money to keep Simms quiet. Simms is charmed by Cecilia. Carter, meanwhile, stays at Vinnie's place, gradually turning into a bum himself. Vinnie confronts Rosie, now Carter's wife. Carter had been planning to sell Simpatico to stud for a fortune, despite knowing he's incapable of siring any foals. Rather than let this happen, Rosie rides off on the horse and shoots him. Months later, Cecilia turns up to meet Simms at the Kentucky Derby.


Unlike other films about horse-racing, which tend either to strike a light Damon Runyonesque comic tone (California Split, 1974, for example) or to play out along the lines of a Dick Francis thriller, Simpatico unfolds with all the solemnity of a Greek tragedy. Adapted from a Sam Shepard play, the film features three protagonists who have unleashed the furies on themselves through their own misdeeds. "There's no running away any more," Rosie snarls at one co-conspirator. "You're in your hell and I'm in mine."

The film starts out reminiscent of Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (scripted by Shepard). This time, instead of Harry Dean Stanton's Travis wandering through the desert, the dishevelled loner Vinnie is a bum living in a rundown LA bungalow beside the freeway. Just as Travis was eventually reunited with his ex-wife, Vinnie has a painful, final-reel reunion with his former girlfriend Rosie, now married to Carter. In Paris, Texas Wenders used home-movie footage to evoke happier times between Travis and his wife. Here, director Matthew Warchus (best known for his work on the London stage) and his co-writer David Nicholls resort to flashbacks in which we see younger versions of the three leads.

What might have been a fast-moving noir thriller, touching on blackmail and race fixing, is weighed down by its own gravitas. Vinnie, Carter and Rosie are so consumed with guilt they cast a pall of gloom over the film. Jeff Bridges' resilient yuppie Carter may seem the model of the successful businessman, but from the first time we see him with Vinnie (Nick Nolte, in a performance which rekindles memories of the tramp he played in Down and Out in Beverly Hills), it is obvious both men are damned, and that each offers a distorted reflection of the other. It is no surprise how easily they switch identities.

In a drama like this, where almost everybody is tainted, there is invariably one holy innocent. Here, Catherine Keener takes on the thankless role as the Pollyanna-like check-out girl Cecilia. Her scenes with Simms, the disgraced racing commissioner, sum up just why the film finally seems so inconsequential. His response to her bribe is an offer of a day at the races. While Vinnie, Carter and Rosie tear themselves up with Euripidean angst, Simms simply isn't bothered. His indifference makes their antics seem absurd; if he doesn't care that they ruined him, why should they?

Like fellow British theatre director Sam Mendes with American Beauty, Warchus allows his actors plenty of space to develop their characters. Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte and Albert Finney, all in typically belligerent form, have their share of close-ups and monologues. There's a striking cameo, too, from Sharon Stone as the blowzy, hard-drinking Rosie, spitting out sarcastic one-liners. Warchus succeeds in opening out Shepard's play for the screen, but ultimately the problem is that the material just doesn't have the emotional resonance of Sam Shepard's very best work.


Matthew Warchus
Dan Lupovitz
Timm Oberwelland
Jean-François Fonlupt
Matthew Warchus
David Nicholls
Based on the play by Sam Shepard
Director of Photography
John Toll
Pasquale Buba
Production Designer
Amy B. Ancona
Stewart Copeland
©Le Studio Canal+
Production Companies
Emotion Pictures in association with Le Studio Canal+ presents a Jean-François Fonlupt production in association with Kingsgate
Executive Producers
Joel Lubin
Greg Shapiro
Sue Baden-Powell
Matthew Warchus
Chuck Binder
Associate Producer
Leon Melas
Production Supervisor
Pearl A. Lucero
Emotion Pictures Supervisor
Phillip Kenny
Production Controller
Lynell Bangs
Production Co-ordinator
Amy Chance
Production Manager
Dara Weintraub
Location Managers
The Russ Fega
Kentucky Crew:
Alan Forbes
Post-production Supervisor
Elizabeth Fox
Assistant Directors
James Deck
Melissa V. Barnes
Paula Smith
Pamela Altieri-Paterra
Script Supervisor
Elizabeth Barton
Daniel Swee
Karen Meisels
Kentucky Local:
Shirley Fulton Crumley
Barbara Harris
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Mike Thomas
Additional Derby Photography
Kenneth C. Barrows
Camera Operator
Mike Thomas
Wescam Operator
Dylan Gross
Special Effects Co-ordinator
Burt Dalton
Special Effects Foreman
Rodney M. Byrd
Special Effects
Michael Duenas
David Kelsey
Art Director
Andrew Laws
Set Decorator
Ellen Brill
Costume Designer
Karen Patch
Costume Supervisor
Catherine M. Bush
Head of Make-up Department
Edouard F. Henriques III
Key Make-up
Amanda Carroll
Key Hair
Shirley L. Dolle
Pacific Title/Mirage
Stewart Copeland
Michael Thompson
Judd Miller
Christen Herman
Music Supervisors
G. Marq Roswell
Dondi Bastone
Supervising Music Editor
Michael D. Dittrick
Music Editor
Sharyn Tylk
Music Recordist/Mixer
Jeff Seitz
"My Old Kentucky Home" by Stephen Foster, arranged/ performed by Stewart Copeland; "Games People Play" by Joe South, performed by Petula Clark; "I Feel Love Coming On" by Barry White, Paul Politi, performed by Felice Taylor; "Good at Being Bad" by Timothy Orsborn, Michael Clay, performed by Ronnie Dawson; "My Sisters and My Brothers", "Stuff" by Arlester Christian, perforrmed by Dyke and the Blazers; "Canotier" by/performed by Steve Marvin; "Opus 1 No 1 Adagio" by Joseph Haydn, arranged by Jeff Gee, performed by Delme String Quartet; "Divertimento No 1 Allegro" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arranged by Jeff Gee, performed by Delme String Quartet; "Free of It All" by/performed by Stewart Copeland, Stan Ridgway
Sound Mixer
Pawel Wdowczak
Marsha Sorce
Re-recording Mixers
Robert J. Litt
Michael Herbick
Lance Brown
Supervising Sound Editor
Lance Brown
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Joe Mayer
Dialogue Editors
Donald L. Warner jr
Bernard Weiser
Robert Troy
James Iassacs
Sound Effects Co-ordinator
John Michael Fanaris
Additional Special Sound Effects
Carl D. Ware
Effects Editors
Aaron D. Weisblatt
Kim Secrist
Steven F. Nelson
Carl D. Ware
Richard E. Yawn
Jeff Barnett
Bruce Bell
Kimberly Lowe Voight
Joan Rowe
Sean Rowe
Michael Broomberg
Chris Staszak
Eric C. Thompson
Supervising Editor:
Bob Beher
Michael Dressel
Nancy MacLeod
Thoroughbreed Consultant
Henry Alexander
Stunt Co-ordinator
Ernie Orsatti
Head Wrangler
Mike Boyle
Horse Trainers
Shelley Boyle
Rex Peterson
Monty Stuart
Mike Boyle Ranches
Nick Nolte
Vincent 'Vinnie' T. Webb
Jeff Bridges
Lyle Carter
Sharon Stone
Rosie Carter
Catherine Keener
Cecilia Ponz
Albert Finney
Darryl P. Simms, 'Ryan Ames'
Shawn Hatosy
young Vinnie
Kimberly Williams
young Rosie
Liam Waite
young Carter
Whit Crawford
Bob Harter
Angus T. Jones
5 year old kid
Ken Strunk
Ashley Gutherie
Maria Carretero
airport attendant
Nicole Forester
female flight attendant
Joseph Hindy
Dan, the bartender
Loyd Catlett
Pete, the male passenger
Brigitta Simone
First Class flight attendant
Christina Cabot
Mack Dryden
Rosie's father
Kristen Knickerbocker
Becky, Lyle's secretary
Barb Rossmeisl
woman 1
Roxana Brusso
checkout girl
Jeannine Corbo
ostario attendant
Malina Moye
Dan Willoughby
Kaizaad Kptwal
Ayman Elsebaei
Adham Sager
Randy Cohlmia
Arab businessmen
Trevor Denman
Allan Bochdahl
race callers
Alliance Releasing (UK)
9,572 feet
106 minutes 21 seconds
Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound/SDDS
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011