Toronto International Film Festival 2003 - UPDATE #6
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
USA/122 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
21 Grams is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's follow-up to the acclaimed Amores Perros, and clearly marks his arrival as an astounding new talent. It's easily the finest movie to play at the festival, and will most likely top my best-of-the-year list. Part of what makes the film so great is the way it requires the viewer to assemble facts as time progress; 21 Grams has been edited in such a way that we're constantly jumping through time, but it never becomes confusing. I'm loathe to give out a plot description, so all I'll say is that the film is an examination of loss and love, and stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro. The film contains many sequences that are searing in their intensity, and the three central actors are certainly up to the task. Penn and Del Toro are expectedly excellent, but Watts is the real surprise here. She more than holds her own with her two costars, which is no small feat given the level of intensity that's going on here. Some mention must also be given to Clea DuVall, who has a small - but pivotal - role; she has one scene in particular that establishes her as a major up-and-coming talent. But the real star of 21 Grams is Inarritu's direction, which is steady and focused - and not to mention innovative. Along with composer Gustavo Santaolalla, Inarritu's created a film that is incredibly moody and dark - though never to the point where it becomes overwhelming. The movie is packed with instances of bravura direction, with a sequence involving misdirection the obvious highlight. 21 Grams is easily the most emotionally devastating movie to come around in a long while, and though the movie's mid-section could've used tighter editing, there's no denying that it's an extremely accomplished piece of work. Don't watch the trailer or read the synopsis - just see it.
Directed by Alexandre Aja
FRANCE/87 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Haute Tension is a slasher flick done right...almost. Aside from a last-minute twist ending that doesn't really make sense when you think about it, the film does a remarkable job of keeping the level of tension high throughout. The movie kicks off with a college girl, accompanied by a friend, heading into the country for a visit with her parents. That night, an ominous serial killer (played by Phillipe Nahon) breaks into the house and kills the entire family - except for the girls (one of which he doesn't see, and the other he kidnaps). What follows - their attempts to escape, mostly - is surprisingly effective and suspenseful, especially when you consider the film becomes virtually dialogue-free after that initial attack. Though the set-up is almost identical to that of Dean Koontz's Intensity, director Alexandre Aja does a superb job of establishing the mood and tone of the story; the entire film takes place at night and there are barely any brightly-lit sequences. Aja makes terrific use of the widescreen format, making Haute Tension an ideal companion piece to John Carpenter's Halloween. The only thing that prevents the film from become an all-out classic slasher is the misguided conclusion. But up until that point, Haute Tension is bloody enough and creepy enough to please horror fans - and I Stand Alone's Nahon makes for a delightfully sinister villain.
The Singing Detective
Directed by Keith Gordon
USA/109 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATION
The Singing Detective is a jumbled mess of a movie. There's no point in being coy about it; unless you're intimately familiar with either the book or seven-hour British mini-series that came before it, the film's not going to mean much to you. The storyline - what little of it there is - has something to do with a mystery writer named Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.) confined to a hospital bed with a debilitating case of psoriasis (a skin disorder that renders the victim virtually paralyzed). He passes the time by imagining himself in numerous situations - as a '50s singer, as the central figure in his own novels, etc - while dealing with a variety of oddball characters. The Singing Detective is just too weird to work for those unfamiliar with the source material (like myself, in all fairness), though Downey does give a surprisingly affecting performance. That he's able to create a semi-compelling character from underneath pounds of make-up is a testament to his ample talent. But all the talent in the world can't disguise the fact that this is a terminally confusing and often irritating movie.