Fandor @ TIFF Update #5: Why Brad Pitt Is a Better Jerk than George Clooney

They Could've Had It All: Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston Roll in "The Deep Blue Sea"

In rough descending order of preference:

The Deep Blue Sea (dir. Terence Davies)
Davies’ strange, beautiful – if barely accessible – adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play may be one of the most personal movies of this year’s TIFF. Compared to Davies’ The House of Mirth, with which it shares many thematic concerns, the new film is almost unbearably stark and unflinching in its treatment of its central character’s slow self-destruction. Some stunning Vermeerian compositions notwithstanding, this is a work utterly devoid of sunlight or any kind of natural beauty – which served as such an effective backdrop in The House of MirthRachel Weisz is devastatingly good as a woman who drops everything for an erotic passion. Even as Davies revisits scenes from his previous films (especially from Distant Voices, Still Lives), he’s aiming at hitting a new tone of sexual despair that would be free of his Catholic sense of obliterating guilt, and would rather showcase the basic impossibility of erotic symmetry between lovers. Still, as Weisz’s character indicates, it’s all about “the shame of being alive”. Of all the movies I saw recently, this one will probably haunt me most relentlessly, luring me into many a repeated screening. – Michał Oleszczyk

The Mountain (dir. Ghassan Salhab)
Purposefully oblique, borderline-precious and doggedly focused on its leading man’s inaccessible physical beauty, The Mountain is a something of a cipher. As we follow a Lebanese poet into his hotel-room retreat, the careful B&W compositions and multi-layered soundtrack aim at conveying the man’s sensual sources of inspiration. If there’s a trace of narcissism to the whole thing, it’s difficult to say whether it belongs to the movie itself or is merely depicted by it. As fixated on sounds, textures and artificial sources of light as David Lynch, Salhab’s is nevertheless a distinctive personality: not very affable, but still fascinating. – Michał Oleszczyk

The Last Christeros (dir. Matias Meyer)
Near the end of Mexico’s 1920s Christeros War over religious persecution, Christian rebels make a last stand against government forces in rugged hill terrain. Reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Che, this beautifully shot film takes a solemn, reverential view towards its ragtag heroes, depicting their struggle as physical, spiritual and communal. With little context provided and little dialogue spoken, the film embalms its subjects in a hagiographic stoicism that’s a little less than believable, despite all the vivid detailing of their existence. – Kevin B. Lee

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"

Moneyball (dir. Bennett Miller)
Strong (if generic) platform for themes that haunt all of co-screenwriter’s Aaron Sorkin’s work, i.e. dreams of power and their troubled vindication. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill make for an almost Wodehousian pair: an animated activist accompanied by a placid (and infallible) fixer. The dialogue is a non-stop rollercoaster of zingers, and it’s not until the very end that Miller shifts gear into the turgid crowd-pleasing mode. The final close-up of Pitt’s eye welling up is an almost undignified way to end a movie that had prided itself for having a remarkably low level of bullshit. – Michał Oleszczyk

Take Two: Michael Lewis‘ bestseller about how Oakland A’s exec Billy Beane used statistical analysis to brazenly transform baseball gets a grossly simplified but serviceable treatment. As with his Capote, director Miller is out to show a man’s obsession with untangling mysteries to transform his career: he soaks the story in dramatic confrontations and brooding interludes, eroding the jaunty upstart tone of Lewis’ account and the trademark jibberjabber reportedly added by Aaron Sorkin to enliven a much reworked script. At least Brad Pitt comes off well in his self-produced vehicle, occupying the brilliant-but-tormented protagonist angle with total conviction, masterfully mixing moods of ambition, rage and shame. Strangely fueled by a sense of perpetual frustration (perhaps informed less by the real-life Beane than by the years it took to get this project off the ground), Pitt’s performance takes the humongous chip on his character’s shoulder and polishes it into a jewel. – Kevin B. Lee

The Descendants (dir. Alexander Payne)
With its attractive Hawaiian setting and easygoing humor, Payne’s first movie since Sideways may prove to be another sleeper hit with audiences; as a film it sure is lazy. As he did in Up in the Air, George Clooney coasts on his natural charms to make an asshole character watchable: this time he’s a wealthy heir to island property about to cash in, but forced to confront his estranged family after an accident sends the wife into a terminal coma. By the end, Clooney doesn’t understand his 10 and 17 year-old daughters any better, and neither does the script: characterization amounts to putting potty mouths on the girls to give them an edge. The film uses similar sitcom shorthand tactics throughout, fudging its way to a feel good family values ending, a far cry from the unsparing satire of Payne’s early days (Citizen Ruth; Election). – Kevin B. Lee

Lipstikka (dir. Jonathan Sagall)
A semi-lesbian, on-and-off relationship between two Palestinian immigrants in London gets a insufferably glib treatment in this paint-it-by-numbers melodrama. Sagall uses extreme close-ups profusely and often pointlessly, as if they were the surest way of opening up the characters’ inner lives. The acting by the two leads is top-notch, but since the style is intermittently facile and overwrought, the final effect is quite disappointing. – Michał Oleszczyk

Did you like this article?
Give it a vote for a Golden Bowtie


Keyframe is always looking for contributors.

"Writer? Video Essayist? Movie Fan Extraordinaire?

Fandor is streaming on Amazon Prime

Love to discover new films? Browse our exceptional library of hand-picked cinema on the Fandor Amazon Prime Channel.