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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

'The Guys' a moving tribute drawn from tragedy of 9/11

By Kevin Thomas
Los Angeles Times

In "The Guys," Anthony LaPaglia plays Nick, the veteran captain of a ladder company grieving over the loss of his men in New York City on 9/11; Sigourney Weaver is Joan, a free-lance journalist who gives shape and punch to Nick's words and emotions.

Focus Features

'The Guys'

PG, for mature themes and crude language

98 minutes

On Dec. 4, 2001, Manhattan's Flea Theater began a series of workshop performances of "The Guys," a play by Anne Nelson written in response to 9/11 and commissioned by the Flea's founder, Jim Simpson from Honolulu.

Nelson and Simpson have now brought the play to the screen with an understated power and with Sigourney Weaver (Simpson's wife) and Anthony LaPaglia in roles they first played on stage. Essentially a two-character drama, "The Guys" makes the transition from stage to screen with considerable grace apart from some awkwardly inserted but brief archival footage.

"The Guys" is set 10 days after 9/11, and chance has brought together Weaver's Joan, an elegant, poised free-lance journalist who has a rewarding professional and personal life, living with her husband and children in a tasteful Upper West Side apartment. LaPaglia's Nick is the veteran captain of a ladder company faced with having to speak at eight memorial services for men he lost on 9/11, with many more speeches sure to follow. Numb with shock and grief, he is literally at a loss for words when he and Joan have been brought together in the Brooklyn home of his neighbor, Joan's younger sister.

Craving an opportunity to respond to 9/11, Joan commences with forthrightness and sensitivity in drawing out Nick, a warm, blue-collar man who is determined not to give way to tears that continually threaten to well up in his eyes. These are two intelligent, mature adults who love their work and waste no time in tackling the task at hand. In getting Nick to start telling her about his lost comrades despite the acute pain he experiences in doing so, she finds descriptions and revelations she can then weave into coherent eulogies.

Nelson, director of the international program at the Columbia University School of Journalism, had never written a play before, but she clearly drew upon what she had experienced and thought about since the terrorist attacks. Weaver has the authority and sensitivity to play a first-rate journalist, and thanks to Nelson, Joan is a uniquely convincing character. Her knack of giving shape and punch to Nick's words and emotions without distorting them is indeed enviable.

Joan's authenticity in turn reinforces Nick's realness. Weaver and LaPaglia quietly, effortlessly soar, and through their Joan and Nick we can experience the overwhelming enormity of 9/11 in an acutely personal way free of horrifying twin-towers images, flag-waving and war-on-terrorism hysteria. What Nick imparts to Joan is the tremendous value his lost men possessed as human beings going about their dangerous jobs with dedication and without fuss.

"The Guys" becomes a hugely moving tribute not only to New York's brave firefighters, but also to all the people who go about their daily lives contributing to the collective good that we never seem to know about until, with cruel irony, tragedy strikes.

In the best line of "The Guys," Joan observes that she and Nick weren't supposed to know each other, but that they do meet and can actually help and console each other gives a most heartening dimension to a most somber film.