Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
dir. Michaël R. Roskam
The Drop opens in theatres tomorrow, September 12.
I haven’t felt this much anxiety watching a crime movie since Scott Cooper’s underrated Out of the Furnace. The Drop is a riveting crime drama about two men, Bob (Tom Hardy) and Marv (James Gandolfini), whose Brooklyn bar, a “drop bar” for local Chechen mafia, is put in jeopardy when robbed by two masked men. The film, adapted by Dennis Lehane from his own short story, cleverly employs the actual robbery as the MacGuffin. We start to realize that it’s not about the money, but about the characters’s choices and how they cope and try to come out alive from the ostensibly central drama.
This is such an interesting film, which comes to a surprise since the previous Lehane adaptations (Shutter Island, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) never suited my tastes. This new film weaves an incredible amount of tension throughout its events, to the point subplots contradict one another – morally cancel each other out- and we’re left anticipating Bullhead director Michael R. Roskam’s stylized (and classical!) direction, which has an impressive ability at framing character to emphasize psychological states, and delaying action to increase the paranoia.
But it’s Hardy, the remarkable English actor who’s always excelled at balancing a formidable physicality (Bronson) with the simplicity of an everyman (Locke), who is the guiding eyes of this picture. Vigilante, wary, and quietly perceptive- the film possesses the same qualities. Yet there’s an underlying innocence to The Drop, signified by a stray pit bull that Bob takes under his wing and protects from its previous brawny owner (Matthias Schoenaerts), who adds an extra layer of conflict on the side. Noomi Rapace also participates as Bob’s love interest, but their relationship doesn’t feel forced or retrofitted; it adds soul where most of today’s crime movies only have grit.
The Drop isn’t just a pleasant surprise, it’s one of the year’s best films.
dir. Jaume Balagueró
[REC]4: Apocalypse is a detour from the previous three Spanish [REC] horror films. Though we should count [REC] 3: Genesis out since it wasn’t directed by Jaume Balagueró, who helmed the first two films and now this fourth entry, Apocalypse. The new film, which takes place immediately after the second and is situated on an oil tanker in the middle of the ocean, deviates from found footage style and follows a more traditional fictional one. We’re no longer looking through a shaky camcorder, but (an even shakier!) Arri Alexa. This is Das Boot for zombie fiends.
The filmmakers overwhelm viewers with shaky closeups that eliminate any sense of space. While the found footage genre typically exchanges narrative for immediacy, co-writers Balagueró and Manu Díez don’t make the necessary adjustments, ladening Apocalypse with stock characters, dubious dialogue, and a derivative story with another one of those ticking time bomb finales and, well, no “apocalypse”.
Yet, somehow the film garners a commendable amount of scares and intense chase sequences, typically involving valve doors sealing shut just before the infected can fly across the threshold. It’s what you’d expect, but at 96 minutes Apocalypse might just be your quick ‘n nasty zombie fix.
The Theory of Everything
dir. James Marsh
The Theory of Everything is certainly earnest, but shouldn’t we demand more from a biopic that’s about a man, the great English physicist Stephen Hawking, who is the best-selling author of A Brief History of Time (1988) and whose IQ is estimated at 160? The film should carry intellectual conviction and probing questions- like the man himself.
“The Theory of Everything” is the referent for Hawking’s lifelong theoretical search for understanding the origins of the universe, yet so little of Man on Wire director James Marsh’s romanticization actually delves deep into the man’s theories. As he ages, we get glimpses of Hawking, played superbly by Eddie Redmayne, recognizing the contradictions in his research, and gradual willingness to accept the religious leanings of his wife Jane (Felicity Jones). But these scenes are fluff, only serving emotional lift.
That’s all The Theory of Everything amounts to: scenes that build to obvious emotional payoffs, which is inherently dishonest towards a scientific thinker renowned for his great intellect. The film, based on Jane Hawking’s “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen”, focuses on the couple’s marriage, and especially Hawking’s hardships with Lou Gehrig’s disease, the “ALS” motor neuron disease he was diagnosed with having while studying at Cambridge University in 1963. The progression of the disease is captured authentically by Redmayne, though Marsh labours to identify with the Oxford-born scholar by overusing point-of-view angles when he grapples with a bout. As the viewer, we’d rather identify with Hawking’s thought-process than his malady – that’s where the triumph is.
dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev
Leviathan takes place on the coast of the Barents Sea, but it could exist anywhere. It deals with human issues that are based in Russia, but affect families, governments, and institutions from around the world. I refer to our society’s struggle with the old and the new- tradition and modernity- and how the two realms stand in contrast to each other, yet inevitably coexist. This dichotomy is the central tension in Leviathan, a poetic, deeply tragic film about a family whose seaside home, an heirloom for generations, faces demolition at the hands of a brutish, vodka-loving, Putin-worshipping bureaucrat.
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Elena, TIFF ‘11), Leviathan, which won the Best Screenplay award at this year’s Cannes, seamlessly integrates nature metaphors, Russian politics, religion, family conflict, and social tensions in sequences that rely on a handful of meticulous shots to compound meaning and drama. Zvyagintsev, like his muse Andrey Tarkovsky, is a composition-driven filmmaker, who takes none of his images for granted. The film is loaded with urgency and dark ambiguity to always keep us guessing.
It’s one of the most powerful and harrowing explorations of human, societal, and natural decay in recent cinema. Should we be surprised it came from Russia?