By Steve Greene | Criticwire April 25, 2012 at 4:55PM
Last year, actress Brit Marling co-wrote and starred in “Another Earth,” a film that opened in theaters a year after premiering at Sundance. The pattern continues nine months later with “Sound of My Voice,” a mysterious offering that’s actually rated higher than its 2011 Park City counterpart. With an "A-" average, it’s Criticwire’s Pick of the Week.
We'll keep the plot description brief to avoid spoilers: The film follows a couple who has decided to infiltrate a cult being run out of a Los Angeles valley basement. There, they meet Marling's Maggie -- who may or may be who she claims to be, but definitely has a secret to hide.
In his Indiewire review, Eric Kohn praised Zal Batmanglij, the director and co-writer, for avoiding stylistic and storytelling choices that would have made "sound of my voice" an obvious science fiction film. Instead, he writes, "'Sound of My Voice' takes a broader look at human nature, targeting the tension between faith and cynicism -- and refusing to endorse either extreme…Batmanglij generates a Spielbergian sense of wonder -- facing down forces that defy immediate rationalization, pitting them against cold objectivity, and letting the mystery linger with a sudden cut to black.'"
Other films that have fared well with multiple Criticwire members include the new Richard Linklater film "Bernie." Adapted from Skip Hollandsworth’s account of the true-life story of Bernie Tiede, Jack Black stars as a well-intentioned Texan community man who gets wrapped up in the wiles of an elderly woman and then commits a sudden criminal act.
Critics have been split between giving credit to the film’s performances and condemning its mockumentary framing device. Twitch’s Ryland Aldrich gives high mark across the board to the above-the-title talent. "Black's slight sashay and soft spoken drawl shoots Bernie up to the very top of the list of his most memorable characters," he writes. "MacLaine plays the bitch role to perfection, begging the audience to wish her dead. McConaughey was born to play Danny Buck, the DA whose devotion to the law is only bested by his desire for the spotlight. That being said, a lesser actor wouldn't have been able to coax out the nuance that keeps Danny Buck from becoming an outright villain."
But, echoing a sentiment held by many others, DVDTalk’s Jason Bailey writes that the film "runs out of gas a bit in the third act, as it begins to rely too heavily on those talking heads, and gets bogged down in the conventions of its courtroom scenes and resolution. But if it overstays its welcome a bit, that's forgivable; it's still an entertainingly playful documentary/narrative hybrid, and finds a couple of our scrappier actors doing some vivid and interesting work."
Norway’s "Headhunters" also garners a "B" average from critics, despite being a tad more polarizing. On one side: the Hitlist’s William Goss, who praises the new hitman/art-thief film as "a swift, smart, suspenseful thriller" that "begins as a slick anti-hero outing [and] soon becomes a brazenly entertaining cat-and-mouse thriller." However, Patrick Gamble at Cinevue isn’t as convinced, explaining that "the script relies heavily on a complete suspension of disbelief to be truly enjoyed - something that wouldn't be such a concern if it wasn't for the fact 'Headhunters' takes itself so seriously."
Joining these films in the positive half of this week’s ledger are the Tribeca Film Festival opener "The Five-Year Engagement," Wei Te-Sheng’s epic "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale" and another 2011 Sundance vet "Restless City."
Criticwire: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article. They are subject to change as new grades come in and will be updated in next week's edition of this article.