Julio DiPietro's The Good Guy (opening in limited release Friday 2/19/10) is a film built on misdirection that suggests one thing while showing you something else.
Narrated by its central character, Tommy Fielding (Scott Porter), The Good Guy uses Wall Street as a template for male-female relationships. Getting over on a customer -- selling him something he doesn't know he wants -- is a lot like selling yourself to a woman in a bar, as Tommy explains to Daniel Seaver (Bryan Greenberg), the protégé to whom he's teaching both the art of the deal and the way with women. It's about confidence, ingenuity, spontaneity -- and a great line of bull.
Yet the women in this film -- particularly Tommy's girlfriend, Beth (Alexis Bledel) -- prize honesty in their men. They're looking for a guy who will play straight with them.
From the film's opening, however, it appears that Beth is the one who is fooling around. We see Tommy, buzzing at her apartment in the rain, guessing that she's there with someone else, walking away forlorn after she tells him, "I feel sorry for you."
Flashback to six weeks earlier, where the film really begins. Tommy is a hotshot stock trader at a high-volume shop on Wall Street. When one of his top men leaves for another position, Tommy suggests that the office tech guy, Daniel, take his place.
His motive seems twofold. For one thing, if he trains Daniel -- a former Army pilot recently returned from the Middle East -- he won't have to worry about Daniel gunning for his job. For another, he seems genuinely sympathetic to this smart but nerdy and clueless guy and relishes the opportunity to play Henry Higgins to his Eliza.
But it's a tough slog. Daniel is honest, decent, a straight arrow who seems allergic to putting one over on anybody. Even with Tommy coaching him, he seems hapless with women. But Daniel needs to step up his game on the trading floor if he hopes to hang on to his job -- which means learning to play his customers.
Daniel's dilemma worsens when he meets Beth, with whom he hits it off. Though Beth and Tommy try to fix him up with her friend Lisa (Anna Chlumsky), Daniel seems taken with Beth -- and she gradually begins to return his feelings.
It's not that simple, of course, and Tommy is as much an agent of his relationship's collapse as Daniel. I won't reveal much more other than to say that DiPietro works some intriguing reversals into the film that roil the viewer's feelings for the characters in unexpected ways.
DiPietro creates a convincing atmosphere on the trading floor, in which colleagues act alternately as allies and competitors, chasing the big bucks, with ethics as an afterthought (if that). It's a perfect depiction of the mentality that brought us to the brink of financial disaster in 2008, the kind of morality-free capitalism that infects a society in ways that reach the personal level after polluting the professional one.
DiPietro has assembled an attractive and well-knit cast that has a unique balance. Greenberg brings just the right kind of reticence to Daniel, a plodder who has a moral compass that keeps him moving in the right direction -- making Daniel the tortoise to Tommy's hare. Bledel has made the transition from teen star to adult actress convincingly, giving Beth both substance and heart.
Each character serves as a kind of fulcrum for the other two in this triangle, but the key player is Porter's Tommy. Porter, of Friday Night Lights fame (and most recently seen in Dear John), has just the kind of bland good looks -- not so handsome as to be threatening, but believably attractive to all kinds of women -- to make Tommy something of a question mark. On the one hand, he obviously is willing to play loose with the rules, as we see from an early deal that he makes while juggling two phones. On the other hand, he come across as the kind of guy who recognizes when he's behaving badly and seems to do it reluctantly, and only out of necessity. Porter brings off that contrast convincingly, without tipping his hand in either direction.
The Good Guy builds its power as it goes, taking you places you don't expect. It's the rare movie that can surprise you in that way -- but this one does.