By Steve Greene | Criticwire September 12, 2012 at 11:15AM
If you’ve been paying attention to the contents of this blog for the past two weeks, you probably guessed that the film with the highest Criticwire average for this week is the new Nicolas Cage vehicle "Stolen." (Just kidding. It's "The Master.") It’s the first narrative film with an A- at the time of its release since "Sleepless Night" all the way back in May. But since there’s little that could be written that hasn’t already been thoroughly covered here, let’s focus on the other three of Friday’s wider releases, shall we?
The grades that have come in for "Liberal Arts" since Sundance wrapped in early February haven’t quite been as enthusiastic as during its festival run. At the halfway point of the year, the film made our Best of 2012 So Far list, but it likely wouldn’t have fared the same had we done it again today. Those initially taken with the film’s snappy script might be instead looking to the overall product, as Patrick Gamble did at CineVue. "Whilst 'Liberal Arts' lacks any distinctive style or artistic panache from Radnor, it's populated with deeply fascinating characters," Gamble writes, but also notes that the film’s "tight script still contains some fantastic comedic scenes which play towards Radnor's fondness for dialogue-heavy humour." The emphasis on relationships was a key theme in his directorial debut "happythankyoumoreplease," but many saw this film as an evolution in his ability to include illuminating detail. Film School Rejects’ Kate Erbland wrote in her Sundance review, "Radnor’s treatment of an early on-set mid-life crisis is more refined than it was in his previous work, and less glossed over with twee touches that seem unrealistic and detrimental to real growth." Perhaps it’s a result of the light-hearted nature that’s helped it fare well with Park City audiences, but even the reviews with the lowest grades don’t contain that much venom. The harshest criticism in Cory Everett’s writeup at The Playlist is, "The music is overbearing at times and there are a few too many endings that circle back to wrap up a story thread you may have already forgotten about, but his heart is clearly in the right place. Radnor, an acclaimed Broadway actor as well as sitcom star, ended up on the other side of a camera by necessity and the transition is suiting him pretty well."
But not all Sundance films this year were driven by writing alone. One film being lauded for its central acting work amidst mixed reactions to the film’s other components is Nicholas Jarecki’s "Arbitrage." Considering the film premiered amidst the fever pitch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it will be interesting to see if Richard Gere’s portrayal of a conflicted corporate executive will resonate as much as it did in the first wave of reviews. Ryland Aldrich at Twitch called Gere’s portrayal "the meatiest role he's had in years. A task he is more than apt to tackle, piloting the picture through its intense script towards potential awards consideration." While the film itself might not be angling for a Golden Globe, Joshua Rothkopf’s assessment Gere’s surroundings is mostly complimentary. "The movie has just enough glitz to wander into the satiric neighborhood of high Tom Wolfe, but centrally, it’s a story about margin manipulations and buttoned-down lawyering, far from a thriller," he explains.