Saturday, September 15, 2007



My third and final day at the Toronto International Film Festival was considerably less rushed than the previous two. In fact, I only had one film scheduled. During my manic search for tickets, I contacted a colleague at the National Post. Craig couldn’t help me with tickets but wanted to know if I would participate in the upcoming Popcorn Panel film discussion on 3:10 TO YUMA. As I love these opportunities, I said I would and found myself buying a ticket to a movie for a reasonable price and without any serious stress over whether it would be possible to get in or not for the first time all weekend. It was liberating. And so my final day in Toronto became all about casual shopping on Queen Street, a first-run movie with the regular film-going folk and a world premiere of Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD.

Before I take a look at the films I saw that day, I want to talk a bit about what I found to be most inspiring about the entire festival. It is one thing to be surrounded by celebrities and premieres; this alone is extremely surreal. What was even more baffling to me was the number of volunteers in and around every venue at the festival and how these volunteers seemed appreciative of their place in the system. They were always courteous and smiling. They were apologetic if the wait was too long as if they cared that you might not be having the best time ever. It was near moving to see so many motivated, energized people who only got to keep their T-shirts and sneak into movies if there was any space left as payment for their time. Before each screening, several sponsors screened tags announcing their support. NBC/Universal was the official sponsor of the volunteer program and each time their tag played and announced their pride in supporting the volunteers, the crowd would erupt in genuine warmth and applause. Maybe that appreciation, plus the T-shirt, made it all worthwhile. Thank you volunteers; you were all helpful and lovely.

3:10 TO YUMA was one of those films that truly surprised me. You know the kind of movie I’m talking about; it’s that movie that you don’t really want to see but you somehow end up seeing it and go in with zero expectations of quality or what will unfold. Seeing a movie under those circumstances can either go one of two ways. Either your suspicions that it was not a movie for you are confirmed and you leave knowing you should trust your judgment next time or you leave impressed and thinking you should probably be a little more open-minded in the future. My experience was clearly the latter. 3:10 TO YUMA has an energy driving it forward that stems from its originality. This might seem a stretch to say given it is a remake of a 1957 film so I’ll elaborate. It is original much like AMERICAN BEAUTY breathed new life into the existing suburban exposition drama or the way THE DEPARTED showed us Scorcese awake for the first time in years. There is something new being brought to the table. Here, director James Mangold (WALK THE LINE) combines a quiet, introspective script (like modern Western, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) with a classic, straightforward story (like the Western classic, STAGECOACH) to create something visually lush that has both exhilarating action and gunfight as well as depth of character. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are both excellent as men at different ends of the moral code. They learn from each other but have strong enough characters to begin with to not falter from their true nature without just cause. With 3:10 TO YUMA, Mangold is forcefully establishing himself as one of the best in the West.

Then there is this other Western director, whom I’m sure believes himself to be one of the best. When Sean Penn was brought on stage before the world premiere of his film interpretation of the life of Christopher McCandless, a university graduate who abandons his possessions, family and attachments in pursuit of life’s greater truths, the crowd was happy to receive him. People clapped, many cheered. However, the next audience response, for a surprise appearance by Eddie Vedder, who contributes four songs to the film, was so much more spontaneous and sincere that it made Penn’s seem almost automatic. Most of the cast, from William Hurt to Catherine Keener to Jena Malone to star, Emile Hirsch, proceeded to fill the stage. This was clearly an event. The moment quickly faded though as it became apparent within the film’s first scenes that INTO THE WILD was going to live up to its name. As McCandless rejects society and conformity, so does Penn with his style. While this does make for many beautiful shots, some entirely scenic, some involving dangerous wildlife in peaceful surroundings, the manner in which it is all strung together is ultimately pretentious. There is so much beauty but so little purpose. The numerous supporting roles come in and out throughout the film, much like the people would have on the adventures McCandless would have experienced. Only this isn’t that experience, this is a film. Consequently, many performances come across as overly dramatic and the adverse affect on the film itself is a disdain for the lead character carrying you everywhere. As McCandless, Hirsch is strong and mature but his character, as noble as he is for pursuing greater meanings in life, is not likable for the emotional pain he caused, especially when it is apparent that he is only running away from his own truths. It’s hard to respect someone who is running away while pretending to be a pioneer. Many people left before the screening had ended and when it finally did, the applause slowly but surely transitioned into a standing ovation. When I saw this, I bolted. My stomach turned seeing all these people paying lip service when a respectful applause would have been sufficient.

This was a bit of a sour note to end my festival experience on. This is the gamble though. You’re not going to like all the movies and we shouldn"t base the entire experience on its final moments. I hope to have the opportunity again next year to go, maybe for longer. For all its industry-centric catering, the Toronto International Film Festival still gave me the chance to see so many movies I was excited to see. I’ll just make sure to have a Visa gold card by this time next year so I can cut to the front of the line.

1 comment:

Othalia said...

i like the way you compared its originality to scorses and the departed or american beauty and suburban drama...and nice Toronto pic!!