Despite the peculiar fact that Paul Giamatti's father Bart (subsequently president of Yale and the commissioner of baseball) was in my French class in high school, I have never responded to Paul as an actor. Didn't hate him, like others who recoil viscerally from his whininess. But he always seemed nerdy and mannered to me.
Now, a plug for his performance in the HBO miniseries (sorry: miniseries EVENT; everything is an event these days, like car sales) "John Adams." Maybe the last five episodes will tank, but the first two were terrific, and aside from the always-winning Laura Linney and a host of good character actors bringing the Framers to life (David Morse looks like he stepped stiffly out of a portrait as George Washington), the central performance is Giamatti's.
What's impressive is that this is real acting. He looks something like Adams, round and a little frazzled, but more to the point he doesn't look much like Giamatti. He catches the character's contradictions (kindly, irascible, patriotic, vain) superbly. Alessandra Stanley panned him in some detail in her NY Times review, and maybe other Adams actors have been better or Giammati descends back into weak eccentricity later on in the series. But so far he seems pretty fine to me, and his performance augurs well for a greater range in future roles.
For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.