Piers Marchant at TIFF, Day Three

September 10, 2017

TIFF 2017: Day 3

Films: 3
Vibe: Piquant

Stronger: Patriots Day was the kind of reactionary, jingoistic bonfire designed almost solely for Boston native son Mark Wahlburg to mutter “They messed with the wrong city!” on screen. David Gordon Green explores similar territory – the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon – but to much more moving effect. Based on the memoir by bombing survivor Jeff Bauman – who lost his legs in the bomb, but was able to help the FBI identify one of the attackers – the film doesn’t dwell on the capture of the bombers, nor the immediate aftermath of the attack, but the years of Bauman’s recovery. About halfway in, it offers up what might have been a triumphant moment, in which the stricken Bauman gets a chance to display to the world his incorrigible spirit, in this case, by coming out on the ice before a Bruins playoff game, but instead of triumph, the moment instead captures his angst and anguish about being turned into a symbol of heroism against his will. Powered directly from yet another masterful performance from star Jake Gyllenhaal, and an equally strong turn from Tatiana Maslany, who plays his love interest, it’s not exploitive, it’s an illuminating account of what happens to the human psyche when its forced into a powerful symbol of hope.

Downsizing: Alexander Payne’s quasi-satire starts off with an intriguing concept: A Norwegian scientist discovers a way to shrink down living organisms such that a human can be safely reduced to dollsize. From there, good old capitalism takes over: Before long, there are “colonies” of “smalls” built all over the globe, with companies selling spots on their enclosed communities like so many timeshares (it turns out, the conversion of your actual retirement accounts into “small” dollars – as it takes so much less to feed/clothe/house you – is extremely advantageous). Matt Damon plays simple everyman Paul, who decides along with his wife (Kristen Wiig) to take the plunge, only to find – shockingly! – the experience doesn’t play out quite the way he imagined. There is a lot of material to exploit here (mini-Tony Roma’s, anyone?), either for black comedy, or social satire, but, somewhat inexplicably, Payne and longtime collaborator Jim Taylor, ultimately eschew those possibilities in lieu of a love story involving Paul and a distractingly problematic stereotype; and a kind of environmental screed that should seem hopeful, but is anything but. A pretty solid miss from the usually reliable Payne, on this one.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: Now, here we have a filmmaker in Yorgos Lanthimos, whose supreme, Kubrickian control over tone allows him to pursue audacious concepts other filmmakers wouldn’t dare to tread (think Dogtooth, or The Lobster). Unfortunately, even his wondrous vision can get crossed up it would seem, and the film – sort of a riff on Euripides – suffers from some particularly ill-conceived notions. Dr. Murphy (Colin Farrell), a renowned cardiac surgeon, has surrounded himself with wonderful things, no more so than his loving wife (Nicole Kidman), and wonderful kids (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic), but when he befriends the enigmatic Martin (Barry Keogan), the son of a former patient who died on the operating table, things start to take a bad turn. To make things “even” between them, Martin informs him that the other members of his family will wither and die, following partial paralysis, a loss of appetite, and bleeding from the eyes, until he chooses one to go in order for the others to survive. The concept is haunting, but is undermined by Lanthimos’ decision to play out the dialogue in an overtly mannered, almost comedic manner (it’s as if the conversations have been slightly sped up, even through their decidedly deadpan style). We’re never sure quite what to feel about Dr. Murphy – it turns out, at the time of Martin’s father’s operation, he had a serious drinking problem, which may have lead to the patient’s demise – but, somehow, sympathy never really comes up. It’s an awfully loaded gun to turn into some sort of peculiar Dr. Seuss contraption, and severely limits the film’s effectiveness.

Tomorrow: There will be a chance to see Haifaa Al Mansour’s Mary Shelley, if I can wake up early enough; then, Lean on Pete, Andrew Haigh’s new film about a lonely teen boy and a horse he becomes attached to. Later in the evening, I’ll check out Joachim Trier’s Thelma.

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