Toronto International Film Festival 2010 - UPDATE #9
Directed by Emilio Estevez
USA/124 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Directed by Emilio Estevez, The Way follows Martin Sheen's Tom as he arrives in France to pick up the body of his dead son and subsequently finds himself lured into completing the 800 kilometer trek that claimed his boy's life. Estevez takes a laid-back, thoroughly relaxed approach that admittedly proves an effective complement to the material, with the film's pervasively pleasant atmosphere heightened by Sheen's winning performance and a frequent emphasis on scenery that's nothing short of breathtaking. And although Tom's first two traveling companions (Yorick van Wageningen's Joost and Deborah Kara Unger's Sarah) add some color to the proceedings, Estevez's decision to introduce Tom's third tagalong, James Nesbitt's Jack, with a protracted sequence in which the would-be writer rants and raves effectively brings the movie to a dead stop (ie it's just an over-the-top and grating interlude). The character eventually becomes an engaging figure, but the damage is done; The Way subsequently suffers from a second half that is far too often bogged down in melodramatic episodes (ie Tom drinks too much and tells off his new friends), which ensures that the film is ultimately at its best in its comparatively simple first half. (The movie's problems are exacerbated by an extreme case of length, as this is certainly the sort of endeavor that would be best served by a 90 minute or less running time.) Still, The Way is, more often than not, a charming piece of work that ultimately works as both a film and as an irresistible travelogue.
Directed by Tony Goldwyn
USA/106 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Conventional yet surprisingly moving, Conviction follows Hilary Swank's Betty Anne Waters as she essentially puts her life on hold to become a lawyer after her brother (Sam Rockwell's Kenny) is convicted of murder. Conviction suffers from an opening half hour that's not exactly easy to get into, as filmmaker Tony Goldwyn, working from Pamela Gray's screenplay, offers up a meandering, time-shifting atmosphere that initially prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing either the material or the characters. There does reach a point, however, at which it becomes awfully difficult to resist the inherently compelling charms of the film's true-life story, with the sporadic inclusion of unexpectedly electrifying sequences - ie Betty Anne tracks down a pivotal piece of evidence - certainly elevating the proceedings on an increasingly frequent basis. The movie builds to a feel-good ending that admittedly packs quite an emotional punch, and there's subsequently little doubt that Conviction, armed with terrific performances from both Swank and Rockwell, ranks among the best of the true-life dramas to emerge out of Hollywood within the last few years.
White Irish Drinkers
Directed by John Gray
USA/109 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Though almost entirely lacking in original ideas and concepts, White Irish Drinkers nevertheless establishes itself as a watchable (if overlong) coming-of-age story that boasts several stand-out performances and a genuinely sweet romantic subplot. The movie, which follows a young man (Nick Thurston's Brian) as he attempts to deal with the various obstacles in his life (including an overbearing father and a felonious brother), has been infused with an admittedly authentic atmosphere by filmmaker John Gray, with the protagonist's downtrodden, working-class existence heightened by his utterly believable friendship with three childhood buddies (ie their camaraderie feels real). There's little doubt, however, that it's Brian's tentative romance with a local (Leslie Murphy's Shauna) that stands as White Irish Drinkers' most appealing aspect, as the palpable chemistry between the two actors ensures that the viewer can't help but root for things to work out for the pair (and it certainly doesn't hurt that Brian first catches Shauna's attention in a heartfelt scene in which he paints her portrait on a dusty window). It's only as the rather tedious plot takes center stage that one's interest begins to wane, as Gray is simply unable to generate any interest or excitement in the film's climactic concert/robbery (ie it's just all so familiar). Still, White Irish Drinkers is an affable piece of work that will undoubtedly work best among viewers who can more closely relate to Brian's hard-knocks upbringing.
Directed by Carl Bessai
CANADA/85 MINUTES/SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
From prolific Canadian filmmaker Carl Bessai comes this less-than-enthralling thriller following three young adults (Dustin Milligan's Kyle, Amanda Crew's Sonia, and Richard de Klerk's Weeks) as they find themselves repeating the same day over and over again, with the movie detailing their subsequent attempts at figuring out why this is happening and, inevitably, exploiting its possibilities. Bessai's notoriously dour sensibilities are evident virtually from the word go, and there's just never a point at which the viewer is able to buy into either the premise or the reality of the characters (and it seems rather unbelievable that none of these characters would reference Groundhog Day once the situation becomes clear). The pervasive lack of authenticity - which is exacerbated by performances that feel like performances - ensures that the movie possesses a hopelessly pointless vibe that only grows more problematic as time progresses, with the increased inclusion of thriller elements transforming Repeaters into a seriously absurd piece of work (ie by the time one of the protagonists turns into a gun-toting rapist, the most patient of viewers will most likely start rolling their eyes).
Directed by Benedek Fliegauf
GERMANY/HUNGARY/FRANCE/107 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
An almost absurdly slow-paced drama, Womb follows Eva Green's Rebecca as she falls for a charming local (Matt Smith's Tommy) and almost immediately loses him in a random traffic accident - with the film subsequently detailing the consequences of her decision to give birth to his clone. It's a rather fascinating premise that's utilized to consistently underwhelming effect by director Benedek Fliegauf, as the filmmaker infuses the proceedings with an exceedingly deliberate sensibility that remains at least somewhat problematic from start to finish. It's a testament to the strength of Green's performance and to the often striking visuals that Womb generally manages to hold the viewer's interest, with the inherently compelling nature of the film's mystery - ie what's Rebecca planning to do with the clone, exactly? - certainly perpetuating the intriguing (yet all-too-languid) atmosphere. It's only as things become more and more clear that Womb begins to fall apart, as the storyline adopts an increasingly illogical feel that inevitably proves insurmountable (ie this seems like an awful lot to go through for someone that Rebecca only knew for a few days). The film, which eventually morphs into a disappointingly standard mother/son drama, is finally unable to live up to the promise of its off-kilter setup, and one can't help but wish that screenwriter Fliegauf had placed more of an emphasis on the narrative's sci-fi elements (ie there are vague references to other clones being ostracized).
Directed by Abe Sylvia
Though it gets off to an almost disastrously unwatchable start, Dirty Girl ultimately does establish itself as an enjoyable little crowd-pleaser that benefits substantially from the star-making work of its two leads. Juno Temple stars as the title character, Danielle, a promiscuous high schooler who convinces an overweight outcast (Jeremy Dozier's Clarke) to drive her across the country so she can meet (and hopefully live with) her biological father. There's little doubt that Dirty Girl improves considerably once Danielle and Clarke head off on that road trip, as the movie is initially a wildly over-the-top piece of work that boasts far too many instances of eye-rolling comedy (ie Clarke's father, Dwight Yoakam's Joseph, equates washing his beloved car with a sexual experience). The almost pervasively broad atmosphere often feels at odds with the sporadic emphasis on heartfelt moments, yet, despite its wildly uneven tone, it's hard to deny that the film does slowly but surely begin to grow on the viewer - with the compelling chemistry between Danielle and Clarke undoubtedly playing a significant role in Dirty Girl's surprising turnabout. The inclusion of an extremely sentimental (yet admittedly affecting) finale does ensure that the movie concludes on a decidedly positive note, and it ultimately does seem as though viewers who are more predisposed to appreciate the film's less-than-subtle touches will probably find it easier to overlook its various problems.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers
Directed by Saverio Constanzo
ITALY/116 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Based on a novel by Paulo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers follows a pair of off-kilter loners (Luca Marinelli's Mattia and Alba Rohrwacher's Alice) from their respective childhoods through to their expectedly rocky adult years. It's clear right from the get-go that The Solitude of Prime Numbers, for those viewers that haven't read the book, does require a considerable amount of patience, as the decision to move backwards and forwards through time results in an atmosphere that can be quite confusing (ie it's initially impossible to figure out both the identity of the various characters and also the context of their actions). Even during its more overtly baffling stretches, however, The Solitude of Prime Number benefits substantially from filmmaker Saverio Constanzo's exacting, often exhilarating visuals - as the director has infused a number of the film's sequences with an almost Kubrickian flair that proves utterly hypnotic. As the movie progresses, however, the various pieces start to fall into place and one is slowly drawn into the decidedly low-key exploits of the two admittedly striking central characters - yet it's just as clear that the movie suffers from an almost aggressively uneventful final third that does, to a certain extent, deflate much of the energy out of the proceedings. In the end, The Solitude of Prime Numbers basically comes off as a subdued drama that's been placed within the context of an impressively epic framework, and it does seem entirely likely that the film would be benefit substantially from repeat viewings (ie the wild shifts in tone might not seem so jarring once you're aware of where everything is going).