Dir: Stanley Tucci. USA. 1999. 107 mins.

Prod Co: October Films, Bohemian Productions. Int'l sales: Good Machine International. Prods: Beth Alexander, Stanley Tucci, Charles Weinstock. Exec prod: Chrisann Verges, Mike Leiber. Scr: Howard A. Rodman, from the book by Joseph Mitchell. DoP: Maryse Alberti. Prod des: Andrew Jackness. Ed: Suzy Elmiger. Mus: Evan Lurie. Main cast: Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis.

Crafted with tender, loving care and impeccably acted throughout, Joe Gould's Secret should restore Stanley Tucci to critical favour after the decidedly mixed response to his slapstick pastiche The Imposters. An acutely observed character study, its very traditional qualities will commend it to a literate, sophisticated audience but will also render it a hard sell beyond that limited market.

Star names like Susan Sarandon and Steve Martin make modest contributions to the piece but the weight of the film rests lightly on the shoulders of Ian Holm's virtuoso performance as the eponymous Joe Gould. Part-Dylan Thomas, part-Truman Capote, Gould's bedraggled, panhandling derelict was a legend in certain New York circles as the last of the true bohemians. A free-spirited eccentric who survived off the kindness of strangers, Gould's renown stemmed from his compilation of a vast oral history of the world that he claimed would distil its essence in the thousand everyday conversations of its ordinary citizens. Underplaying almost to the point of diffidence, Tucci's gentlemanly Joseph Mitchell is the New Yorker reporter who first wrote of Gould's heroic struggles during the Second World War. In forming a relationship with an often volatile, irascible figure he was also forced to assume an element of responsibility for his welfare and his literary legacy. As Mitchell is forcibly reminded - the story doesn't end when the journalist stops writing.

Mitchell published two New Yorker pieces on Gould in 1942 and 1964. Tucci's methodical, evocative dramatisation does full justice to the cool elegance of their prose and the deep-rooted pathos in their touching account of human weakness.