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Kinney takes a swing at Sundance
02/05/2008 2:49 PM ET
Terry Kinney is a huge Chicago Cubs fan, so when the script for a film called "Diminished Capacity" came across his desk, he was immediately intrigued.

Here was the tale of a down-and-out newspaper man named Cooper who had suffered a concussion that has left him in a condition where he proceeds to lose his short-term memory. Nevertheless, Cooper embarks on a quest with his Alzheimer's-stricken uncle, Rollie, and his high school sweetheart, Charlotte, to sell a valuable baseball card.

Meanwhile, the Cubs are charging toward the playoffs, hoping that they win their first World Series since 1908.

"The backstory of the Cubs contending for the playoffs is very much related to the two central characters and their quest," says Kinney, who directed the movie that is now being shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

Kinney, a veteran actor and director most known for his role as Tim McManus on HBO's eye-opening series "Oz," worked on changes in the script with Sherwood Kiraly, who wrote the novel the movie is based on and the screenplay. The two bonded through the experience as storytellers and Cubs fans.

"It's kind of an impossible dream that everybody has," Kinney says. "The backstory of the Cubs contending for the playoffs is very much related to the two central characters and their quest. It's kind of an impossible dream that everybody has. The hope we have for the Cubs is very much related to the hope we have for these two characters, who also happen to be prone not to win."

"Diminished Capacity" is no loser, however.

For one, the cast of the film is simply staggering considering its relatively low budget and small-movie sensibilities. Matthew Broderick plays Cooper, Alan Alda plays Rollie, recent Academy Award nominee Virginia Madsen plays Charlotte, and other actors in the film include comedian Louis C.K. and TV veteran Dylan Baker.

"It was a really good script," Kinney says, "and I think people recognized that. I think they all found it really funny. So I basically called in every favor I ever had. I had actor friends from what I did in my other life, and they listened."

Kinney's former life was just as successful as his "new" one.

Along with actors Gary Sinise and Jeff Perry, he co-founded the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in the 1970s. He has gone on to direct "A Streetcar Named Desire," "A Clockwork Orange" and "Streamers" there as well as the Tony Award-winning revival of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" on Broadway.

With "Diminished Capacity," Kinney had the opportunity to take the helm of a feature film that combines quirky elements of humor with a classic tale of redemption, as offbeat and improbable as it might seem.

"I love the idea of these two people who were not just peripheral, but unlikely to succeed at what they wanted to do," Kinney says. "The idea of this simple task that they bond with ... it's sort of like a Laurel and Hardy movie.

"They're trying to accomplish one simple thing, and if they do, they'll be the arbiters of their own destiny. It's a remarkable metaphor for a lot of things, and the fact that the Cubs played into that made me realize why I was a Cubs fan."

It isn't hard for Kinney to trace the roots of that partisanship.

He grew up in central Illinois, "right down the middle between Cardinals and Cubs," he says. "People run Cardinals flags up their flagpoles, and Cubs fans are doing it on the other side of town. I remember physical confrontations about it. We were ardent about who we liked."

And Kinney's father, now 86 and never the witness of a Cubs championship, is ardent, too.

"Still, every year, he says, 'I think this is it. I think this is the team,'" Kinney says with a laugh. "And this book and movie echo that eternal optimism. You know, you can go home again. Recognize who loves you and go there. I was touched by all the positive elements."

Another element of the film is its exploration of the world of baseball cards and the value -- literal and figurative -- of memories.

"The idea of memorabilia is also the idea of posing the question, 'How much are your memories worth?' Kinney says. "This is about a man who's about to lose them forever, but before that happens, he just really wants to make sure that he puts into place the plan that he wants. He wants to choose his own ending. The card plays heavily into the idea of collecting memories, the kind that we keep pristine."

Kinney is a former card collector, but he admits that he "didn't take great care of them." He also says he'll continue to live and die with his Cubs, win or lose.

"I've taken it hard every time and I always think I'm not going to," he says. "All of us do. We get our hearts broken. It's love. It's marriage. It's something you can't choose. Once you're a Cub fan, it's kind of inexplicable to other people. It's not about winning, it's about the faith. They're a team of destiny one way or another. There's a great deal of romanticism and elegance to that team.

"Everybody in the world, I believe, will be happy if they do it. I think the other team will be happy if they do it. Who else can you say that about?"

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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