The following short reviews of films opening on Sunday, Sept. 12 at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival are by James Adams, James Bradshaw, Guy Dixon, Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Gayle MacDonald, Dave McGinn, J. Kelly Nestruck, Johanna Schneller and Brad Wheeler. The star ratings are out of four.
The Conspirator Robert Redford (USA)
This is by no means a great movie, but in telling a gripping and little-known true story with many contemporary resonances it has time(liness) on its side. It's 1865, the Union has pretty much clinched victory in the American Civil War when suddenly President Lincoln is assassinated by Confederate zealot John Wilkes Booth. Fear and anxiety grip the nation. Hundreds of citizens are rounded up, including Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a widow and Southern sympathizer whose son is an associate of Booth. Eventually, she's lumped in with the other assassin conspirators and tried before a military commission where her rookie lawyer (James McAvoy), also a decorated Union soldier, isn't so sure she should be saved from the gallows. Redford doesn't belabour the parallels between then and now, now and then, but they're striking (and apt) nevertheless. A fine cast (including Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood and Tom Wilkinson) strives mightily to personalize the tale but, finally, they're just passengers on a great engine of plot. JA
Sunday, Sept. 12, 12 noon, Ryerson; Sept. 19, 2:45 p.m., Varsity
The Illusionist (L'illusionniste) Sylvain Chomet (U.K.)
A surprisingly melancholic homage to the great French filmmaker Jacques Tati. This animated feature from the director of The Triplets of Belleville has no manic scenes or even outright moments of hilarity. Instead, it pleasingly and quietly follows a character resembling the angular and awkward Tati as an itinerant magician who finds himself in Scotland. Along the way, a young girl tags along, creating a father-daughter bond which never fully explains itself. It never needs to. Based on an unproduced script by Tati himself, the story was thought to the late filmmaker's message to his daughter, while Chomet's own daughter went through her teen years as he made this film. What both filmmakers left for us is a beautiful, ambiguous dream. G.D.
Sept. 12, 2:30 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 19, 6:30 p.m., Bell Lightbox 2
West Is West Andy De Emmony (U.K.)
This is a sequel to East Is East, the 1999 hit family comedy about a Pakistani family living in Salford, England, and their struggles with their Old World father, George Khan (Om Puri), and Caucasian mother (Linda Bassett). The new movie picks up in 1975, when George decides to sort out his unruly youngest son, Sajid, on a journey back to Pakistan, leaving his wife (temporarily) at home. As in the previous film the form is peculiar, a blend of cultural-alienation drama and sitcom. Puri is compelling as George, a hypocrite who holds his children to standards of conduct he doesn't meet. His conflicted character can seem out of place against the broadness of the Carry On Gang-style humour. But somehow, the idea that the struggles of culture shock can be both psychologically traumatizing and a bit of a laugh works. L.L.
Sept. 12, 1:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 14, 12:30 p.m., Winter Garden; Sept. 18; 6:15 p.m., Scotiabank 2
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Woody Allen (U.K./USA/Spain)
This decent, second-rank Woody Allen comedy features a cast led by Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin in a moody farce about romantic delusions and practical disappointments. Helena Shepridge (Gemma Jones) visits a psychic after she's been ditched by her husband of 40 years, Alfie (Hopkins), who has taken up with a call girl (a scene-stealing Lucy Punch). Helena and Alfie's daughter, curator Sally (Watts) is wed to blocked novelist Roy (Brolin), but both have roving eyes. He begins to flirt with a comely neighbour (Freida Pinto) while she fantasizes about her unhappily married boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas). None of this breaks new ground, but as is often the case with Allen, the ridiculous absurdities of the characters undermine the habitual pessimistic pose. L.L.
Sept. 12, 6 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 19, 12 p.m., AMC 6
Trigger Bruce McDonald (Canada)