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TIFF, Day Five: Villeneuve's 'Enemy,' Reichardt's 'Night Moves' and the Overstuffed 'August: Osage County'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood September 13, 2013 at 12:10PM

Sometimes you shouldn't listen to people you're standing next to in line, no matter how charming you find them.

Sometimes you shouldn't listen to people you're standing next to in line, no matter how charming you find them. 

I spent quite a long time outside the Elgin last night standing next to a delightful young couple from Sudbury (which ought to have told me something, as it seems to be a country-bumpkin punchline to a number of jokes) who were spending their vacation at TIFF, had chosen a very eclectic program, and (this should have been the second tipoff) had liked everything they'd seen so far.  Their enthusiasm for "Half of a Yellow Sun," plus its stellar cast (Chiiwetel Ejiotor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose), source material (a novel that won the Orange Prize), and setting (Nigeria during civil war), convinced me to start the day with it.

Even the best actors are lost without a decent script.  "Half a Yellow Sun" seemed stodgy, cliched, and clunky to me -- a soap opera roundelay of barely-comprehensible infidelities, set against underexplained political conflict. I didn't get it.

Up next, Denis Villeneuve's "Enemy," chosen because I was impressed with both "Incendies" and "Prisoners."  Well, the guy has never made the same movie twice -- though all three are dark, both in subject matter and look. "Enemy" is based on a novel by the Nobel-Prize-winning Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago -- original title, "The Double," possibly not used because there's another movie this year with that title, based on Dostoevsky's novella (and also showing at TIFF), starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.

We've come a long way from the days of Bette Davis playing twins in "A Stolen Life" and Hayley Mills, ditto, in "The Parent Trap" -- technically, anyway.  When history professor Jake Gyllenhaal meets his mysterious double, a small-parts movie actor, in "Enemy," the effects are seamless.  (It's more distracting that screens all over the Scotiabank had regularly broadcast the knowledge, all week, that Gyllenhaal is a member of Swedish royalty.) It's fun to watch a story that's recognizably set in Toronto while you're in Toronto -- even if the take is of a rather soulless, dull Toronto. I find "Enemy" stylish, disturbing, and intriguing -- although thin -- right up to its final shot, when I leave, mildly dissatisfied, but not at all unhappy to have spent an hour-and-a-half in its company.

I line up for the next movie, Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves." I am of two minds about Reichardt.  People have always adored her personally, and I was charmed by her persona the other day during her onstage conversation with Spike Jonze, but I've never quite been fully convinced by her films.  I came late to "Old Joy," and expected more because of the delirious critical acclaim it had been greeted with. "Wendy and Lucy" seemed heartfelt, and certainly knew what it was about, but seemed thin, especially in comparison with, say, the Dardenne brothers' "Rosetta."  

This article is related to: Toronto, Festivals, Denis Villeneuve, Kelly Reichardt, Kelly Reichardt, Night Moves, August: Osage County

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.