The overarching theme of Julian Goldberger’s film, “The Hawk is Dying,” is connection. Everyone needs something larger than themselves to connect with, in order to rise above the mundane details of everyday life.
For George Gatling (Paul Giamatti), that something is falconry. Not that he’s any good at it, min you. As the film opens, his mentally challenged nephew Fred is arranging an elaborate memorial mosaic for George’s latest casualty, a sparrowhawk. Still, George goes on and on about the history of falconry, to the point of alienating his sister Precious, with whom he lives, and his occasional sex partner Betty (Michelle Williams).
His obsession reaches even greater heights when he and Fred trap a magnificent red-tailed hawk. And even when a tragedy befalls the family, he continues his single-minded quest to train the bird, to the detriment of his existing human relationships and his own health.
“The Hawk is Dying” offers a meandering look at George’s seemingly meaningless life, and seems to offer the suggestion that anything we choose to latch on to in order to bring us happiness is worth it. Goldberger doesn’t quite sell it, however, populating his film with an unlikely selection of misfits and “quirky” secondary characters. Giamatti, as always, is great. He brings George to life, which isn’t all that difficult for one of the few dumpy, balding actors getting leading man roles in Hollywood. Even so, his performance is riveting. But for all the effort Giamatti gives in making George a convincing character, the movie itself, never quite gets off the ground. The feel is too deliberately peculiar, and Goldberger’s detached style never gives us a reason to invest ourselves in anyone but George.