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Eyes that are prized

Paul Newman, the legend that never gets old

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Empire Falls
Ed Harris and Paul Newman in "Empire Falls."
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(CNN) -- Paul Newman could have long since rested on his laurels.

In 1982 he gave perhaps his finest film performance, that of the broken-down Boston lawyer Frank Galvin, in "The Verdict." In 1986 he finally won his long-deserved Oscar, for "The Color of Money," in which he revisited his pool shark character "Fast Eddie" Felson.

Since then, he's played old: old patricians ("Mr. and Mrs. Bridge"), old coots ("Nobody's Fool") and cold, heartbreaking old gangsters ("The Road to Perdition").

Yet he doesn't seem old; he never fails to find the soul and spirit within his characters, giving them a vibrance even when they're moving slowly.

Of course, why should Paul Newman, now 80, with blue eyes like lasers and a laugh like a lion, seem old? He's always been young at heart.

Witness the raffish charm of Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy or "The Sting's" Henry Gondorff. Witness the non-businesslike businessman of Newman's Own products (he's joked that his salad dressing has made more than his recent movies). Witness the race car driver who finished second in the 1979 24-hour LeMans race.

Now Newman -- who insists he really is getting ready to hang it up (say it ain't so, Paul!) -- steals the show as Max Roby, the untrustworthy father of Miles Roby (Ed Harris), in the HBO production of Richard Russo's masterful novel, "Empire Falls."

Eye on Entertainment takes a look.

Eye-opener

"Empire Falls" won Russo the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The book -- and the four-hour film, which will air on HBO Saturday and Sunday -- chronicles a slice of time in the life of a decaying New England mill town.

The characters, in typical Russo fashion, are sadly hilarious, flintily shrugging off their hurts and burdens while always aware of their pain. (I don't mean to make Russo sound tragic; he's anything but tragic. But tragedy always shadows the many laughs.)

Roby is a diner manager who would like nothing better but to ditch his business and the town of Empire Falls, but he's entangled in relationships -- with his ex-wife, with the imperious diner owner, with his whole town, dammit -- and particularly with his indecisive self.

His former wife, Janine (Helen Hunt), is involved with a slick health-club owner. His daughter, Tick (Danielle Panabaker), is a bright student struggling with her moods. And his father -- Newman -- would rather abscond with money than work for it.

And, naturally, everybody has a secret or two, particularly the diner owner, Francine Whiting (Joanne Woodward), whose family has essentially run the town for generations.

"Empire Falls" boasts a terrific cast -- in addition to those already mentioned, the stars include Aidan Quinn, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn, Dennis Farina and Theresa Russell -- and was directed by Fred Schepisi ("Roxanne").

And if Paul Newman is the kind of star they don't make anymore, "Empire Falls" is the kind of character-driven movie Hollywood doesn't make anymore. Which is probably why it's on cable. Our gain.

"Empire Falls" airs 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on HBO. (HBO, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.)

On screen

  • Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Nelly and Burt Reynolds -- Burt Reynolds? -- star in the remake of Reynolds' 1974 hit, "The Longest Yard." It opens Friday. You have been warned.
  • Animals flee the comfort of the Central Park Zoo and find themselves on the way to "Madagascar," in the computer-animated film of that name. The voices include Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith and Chris Rock. Opens Friday.
  • Sound waves

  • Oasis returns to the record racks Tuesday with a new CD, "Don't Believe the Truth" (Sony).
  • Better Than Ezra's new CD, "Before the Robots" (Artemis), comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • Lisa Scottoline's new novel, "Devil's Corner" (HarperCollins), comes out Tuesday.
  • "Meet the Beatles" (HarperEntertainment), a cultural look at the Beatles by Steven D. Stark, comes out Wednesday.
  • "Blinding Light" (Houghton Mifflin), the latest novel by Paul Theroux, comes out Wednesday.
  • Video center

  • Remember "Moonlighting" when it was good? Before Maddie and David slept with each other? When they did the "Atomic Shakespeare" episode? Well, seasons 1 and 2 are out on DVD Tuesday. (Unfortunately, because it's in season 3, it doesn't include "Atomic Shakespeare," but you do get "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice.")

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