Starring: Jack Nicolson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates Director: Alexander Payne Category: IIA There is always something riveting about watching a Jack Nicolson performance, most likely because - unlike scores of actors of his generation - his career has progressed with such grace and dignity (okay, we can forgive him Mars Attacks!). About Schmidt sees him in all his glory, wonderfully crumpled and weary with the world. It's a performance not far removed from his turn in As Good As It Gets (1997), which brought him an Oscar, and he may well salute the judge again on March 23. Nicolson plays Warren Schmidt, a man whose career has come to an end, and who is wondering what it's all been about. He's a man who has existed on the edge of disappointment for years. He has been living but not really living. When his wife dies, his reaction is to 'save' his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) from entering a marriage he fears will not bring her happiness. But Schmidt's plan seems to be thwarted at every turn - disappointment seems to be his destiny. Director Alexander Payne (Election) hauls in the tried and tested road trip to help us join Schmidt on his voyage of self-discovery and, as always, mid-America makes for a backdrop full of quirks and quirky characters. There are times, however, when it is not clear whether he is asking us to laugh at these people, rather than be amused by them. And that's one of the few problems with About Schmidt: you're left with the feeling the film set out to be a lot deeper than it turns out. The bitterness is never levelled out or washed away. Schmidt is thrown in at the deep end when he hooks up with Jeannie's potential in-laws, and Kathy Bates shines as their rough - and, yes, naked at one point - matriarch. There is a sadness to Schmidt, made more poignant by the fact that Nicholson keeps his emotions so subdued for so long: he is masterfully beaten up and broken down every time he tries to move on or make a change. It is a film that is always very American. And that's in the people, the lives and the lifestyles that it both represents and challenges. But there's so much power and knowledge behind Nicolson's performance - and from the wonderful Bates - that any quibbles you might have will be overshadowed. About Schmidt opens on March 6.