John’s TIFF Diary: Day One


John H. Foote reports from Toronto!

TIFF is always a joy to attend, as the world of cinema is on display with the very best directors on the globe displaying their new films in hopes of starting that all-important Oscar buzz.  Suffice to say that many films arrived here with buzz already attached, and I greatly anticipated this year’s festival.

The Opening Night Gala has been historically reserved for a Canadian film but this year the programmers decided to continue the marriage of film with rock-and-roll with the new U2 documentary From the Sky Down (**) directed by David Guggenheim.  Though they might be one of the great rock bands in history, U2 has never fared well on film, and though we get great insight into their dynamic as a band, the film tends to portray them as your typical rockers.  

Guggenheim's chronicle of U2 disappoints...

Sure, we go back in time and see the band in the days after the extraordinary success of The Joshua Tree, when egos flared, tempers erupted and there was a real danger the band would break up.  However, we never seem to go in-depth with any of them.  The Edge was going through a nasty divorce at the time, and though we are told it was having an impact on him, we never actually see what that impact really is.  There are flashes of Bono’s ego, but never do we see the band tuning him in as they no doubt would have done.  I went into this wanting to learn something about Bono and U2, and though I suppose I have a greater appreciation for the input of The Edge on the band, I found the film tedious, and if anything needing more concert footage of the band in action doing what they do best.

The Ides of March (***) is George Clooney’s fourth film as a director, and is certainly stronger than his last outing.  In fact, this is a return to the form that saw the director give audiences the Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck (2005).

George Clooney makes an inspiring presidential candidate...

In the film Clooney is perfectly cast presidential candidate Mike Morris, who has all that it takes to be this country’s next President. His press secretary is Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) who believes in the man he works for, who believes he can and should be the next US President.  As with all politicians they possess very human faults, and when Morris’ begin to show, Myers begins to wonder if he is truly with the right man.  In many ways the film is the most realistic study of US politics since The Candidate (1972), and though it lacks the bluster and sting of Bulworth (1998) there is a great deal within the film to admire, beginning with its superb performances.  Gosling, who is positioning himself to be this year’s “man of the moment,” is terrific, exuding an intelligence that may be greater than that of Morris, who understands his flaws and accepts them, something his press secretary is noble to do.  Paul Giamatti has never been more sinister on screen than he is in the film once again laying claim to being the finest character actor in movies.

Superbly written, the film crackles with realism until the third act when things fall apart.  Still, it’s more than strong enough to sustain its audience for the duration.

Initially the film was earning a great deal of Oscar attention, but I think it will leave TIFF with some of that gone, as attention turns towards Clooney’s performance in The Descendants