TORONTO: ‘The Road,’ ‘Bad Lieutenant,’ ‘Chloe’

Posted by · 2:27 pm · September 14th, 2009

Chloe(Please note, as opposed to Kris and Guy, I tend to grade films on a 5-star scale.)

Loads to catch up on today and some interviews still to write up. First off, I have to confess that I disagree with Kris’s review of “The Road,” respectfully of course, and I think I have a reason why I might have viewed and appreciated the film in a very different light than he.  I also saw Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” which features a hugely entertaining performance from Nicolas Cage, and the latest from Atom Egoyan, “Chloe,” which features a splendid performance from Amanda Seyfreid.

Let’s dig in…

“The Road” (****)

This was a dark and unsettling film based on the brilliant book by Cormac McCarthy about a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeying to the south after the world has essentially seen its end of days. We are never really given a clear explanation as to what happened, but the vague description we do get sounds like nuclear war finally came, and the planet is dying a slow death.  Trees are dead, there is nothing alive or growing anymore, the world is a gray and dreary place, as though hell had suddenly burst forth from the bowels of the earth.  The south brings warmer weather, which is what the man and his son need, he believes, to survive, and survivial is what the film is about.

The father will do anything to protect his son from harm, even if it means putting a bullet in the child’s head so he will not suffer at the hands of others.  As he tells the boy, “That’s my job,” and it is a job he takes very seriously. He remembers, usually in dreams, the better times with his wife, portrayed by the lovely Charlize Theron, though those flashbacks take a dark turn when she leaves him, unable to deal with the doom she knows is coming.

Memory is a terrible thing.  It invades our dreams and is always there in the landscape of our minds to take us back to a time when things were better, or even worse.  The man’s memories are of a world that was alive.  There was a future.  Hope still existed.  In the barren and corrosive landscape these two are moving across, there is a challenge in seeing any hope for a future that may not even exist.  But the man is a parent, and we parents see hope in the eyes of our children whenever we look into them. He will keep moving for the boy, he will teach the boy how to survive, and he will do anything to anyone who tries to do harm to the boy.

As the pair journey south they encounter gangs that thrive on cannibalism, or homes that hold human beings in their basements as food. Through the boys eyes there are “good guys” and “bad guys,” and he and his father’s job is to avoid at all costs the “bad guys.”  There are small victories, such as discovering an underground shelter full of food, but these are short-lived because they must keep moving.

Kris mentioned an encounter they have with an old man (Robert Duvall), who could not possibly do them harm, yet the man keeps his gaze on the old-timer, forever protecting the boy.  In his review of the film, Kris felt that the man might instead have a conversation with an adult, talk about how things where, share some joy rather than be so protective of the child, but as a parent, I can personally state that any parent would be hyper sensitive and paranoid in this situation because anyone, ANYONE, could mean the boy harm.

I felt “The Road” was a masterful film, one of the best of the festival, superbly directed by John Hillcoat and brilliantly acted by Viggo Mortenson and Robert Duvall.  I do share the same feelings Kris had about the young Kodi Smith-McPhee in that many of his lines are shrill and wildly over the top. Though I understand why his character would become more and more whiny (regressing), it became rather annoying. That, however, is a small quibble for a brilliant film.  The images of a dying earth are haunting and grim, a bold presentation of what could become of this planet we call home.

“The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (***)

Nicolas Cage is an actor whom I consider to be without fear. He throws himself into his performances with an energy that is hypnotic, and even when he fails (which he often has), he is interesting to watch. Cage is the sort of actor we all wanted to be at one time or another when I was studying, the sort that was fearless, who would risk a bad performance to try something unique, who gave his other actors so much, often sacrificing himself in the process.

His performance in “Leaving Las Vegas” seemingly won him every possible acting award on the circuit, with the exception of the Independent Spirit Award (which went to Sean Penn in “Dead Man Walking”).  Previously he had impressed audiences and critics with strong work in “Racing with the Moon” and “Birdy” and earned their wrath in “Peggy Sue Got Married” (which I found entertaining).

After winning the Oscar, Cage went through an action film phase before earning rave reviews and another Oscar nod for “Adaptation” in dual roles for the great Spike Jonze.  Other notable works recently include “Lord of War” and “The Weather Man,”, even trying his hand at directing with the under-appreciated “Sonny.”

His work in Werner Herzog’s latest, a re-imagining of the Harvey Keitel starrer of 1990, is wildly entertaining, exploding across the screen with extraordinary energy, and obviously having a great deal of fun doing so.  But I found myself wondering while watching the performance, “Though I am enjoying the hell out of this, is it any good?”

The film is light years away from the original film, not nearly as dark or as nasty.  Set in the weeks after the devastating Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we see a city in crisis, and a cop on the edge, one who routinely takes things out of the evidence lock up, snorts cocaine, gambles, threatens anyone in his way, including old ladies, and is not above terrorizing a young couple just exiting a nightclub for the sheer fun of it. His superiors know some of what he is up too, but certainly not everything, and he gets away with most of it because he is a good cop and gets results.

He also suffers from crippling back pain, and in addition to the coke, finds himself addicted to painkillers. Juggling several things at once, the most pressing being the slaughter of a family, he soon finds himself in way over his head, having messed with the wrong folks and often staring down the wrong end of a gun.

Herzog’s film is very different than the original in that it is not as difficult a viewing, partly because Cage is having so much fun on screen.  This is a bad guy, but he is not the worst of the people on screen, which is how he justifies what he does.  However, I was always aware Cage was acting, that he was having so much fun doing it.  I still could not take my eyes off of him.  He owned the screen and for two hours, he owned that audience, who were either right with the film’s intense drama or howling with laughter at his antics.

“Chloe” (***)

I like Atom Egoyan, as a director and a person. His film “The Sweet Hereafter” is a masterpiece that I’ve written about plenty of times.  But in the years since that effort, he has quielty been making the films he wants to make here in Canada. Egoyan believes in Canadian cinema.  He believes that we make good films here in Canada, and he celebrates that every chance he gets.

“Chloe” was not written to take place in Toronto, but Egoyan decided to set it there anyway. The movie is very different for Egoyan, an erotic thriller about people leading double lives and being reflections of themselves and others, and in his capable hands, the difficult plot works for the most part.

Julianne Moore stars as a doctor who suspects her husband, portrayed by Liam Neeson, is having an affair. She hires a young prostitute, Chloe (Amanda Seyfreid), to get to know her husband and see how far it goes. What she does not count on is being seduced by the hooker herself, before discovering that things are not quite as they seem. We move quickly from a challenging drama about fidelity to a thriller about allowing someone unstable into your marriage and being forced to see the terrible consequences.

There were some moments that I struggled with, however, including an ending that stunned many into uncomfortable laughter, but the director and his superb cast try their best to navigate the bumps.

Anyway, a couple of personal notes.  One of the things I love about festivals is seeing old friends from last year and years gone by and catching up.  I saw the brave Roger Ebert moving from film to film, my friend Bill Chambers from FilmFreakCentral.nett, Scott Feinstein, a publicist out of New York and the great Brian De Palma, up here for the fun of it.  It’s always nice to catch up.

Lastly, a personal gripe.  The lines, man.  We arrive at a theater for a 9:00am screening only to be put in line for more than 45 minutes. Not to be a pisser and moaner, but I am handicapped, and standing for long stretches of time is very hard on the legs.  I’m talking deep bone, intense, serious pain, the results of a head-on car accident a few years ago that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.  The volunteers see me, but are powerless to help, and there are people far worse off than I that are in the same situation.  It is simply something the festival organizers need to address and deal with.  I want no special treatment, just a spot, even outside the theater, to sit and take the pain away.

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24 responses so far

  • 1 9-14-2009 at 2:34 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I really don’t think it’s fair to hang the “I’m a parent” thing on my criticism, which others have tried, because it isn’t as if wanting to be protective of one’s child is so foreign a concept.

    But my point remains valid, I feel, even if we do want to go there. First and foremost, you’re taking a “realism” stand with such a notion, which the film isn’t at all pretending to exist within realistic parameters. It is about the best of us and the worst of us and, therefore, is an abstract piece.

    So with that in mind, there was an opportunity that presented itself where the movie and, in particular, this scene could have made the piece about even more (as I discussed with Anne in Friday’s podcast). And this, I feel, is why Duvall improvised the “I had a son” line.

    Obviously I’m speculating, but I think he sensed an opportunity to hit other, more meaningful levels. As a result, the scene is close to that point toward the end, but because of the insistence on hammering home this bleak world and, conversely, the idea of “warmth” and “parental love” defeating that (or does it?), very facile concepts, the film is restrained from being even more universal than it already is.

    That’s my take, anyway.

  • 2 9-14-2009 at 2:42 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    As for hanging the “Im the parent thing”? Not at all — NOT AT ALL — a different perspective that is simply what I felt after seeing the film. Bear in mind with the improv, Mortenson went with Duvall on the improv, asking him what happened to his son, and Duvall states he will not discuss it with him. Any chance Mortenson had in that scene to disucss that aspect of the past was shut down.

  • 3 9-14-2009 at 2:52 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It was shut down in that instance but there’s more to discuss than sons. These are two guys who share something, a memory of the past, a time the boy, who is asleep, knows nothing about. I think it was an opportunity to share in what is gone and, therefore, to highlight the hope of what could be.

  • 4 9-14-2009 at 3:22 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    John, you should write more about your thoughts on the films and less about their plots. It’s hard to gather exactly what you found so great about The Road since only the very last two sentences are dedicated to it and are kind of vague.

  • 5 9-14-2009 at 3:36 pm

    John said...

    I am happy to hear your very positive report, John. But I have to agree with what Chad said, as well.

  • 6 9-14-2009 at 4:03 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    chads rght, great to hear the road getting more good word though, hope this is another basterds type situation, early buzz is bad and kris dislikes but turns out to be a great movie, dont get mad at me please

  • 7 9-14-2009 at 4:36 pm

    Daniel said...

    Apologies if this sounds curt, but are you getting paid for this? I would do just about anything to be in your shoes to watch these films, but your reviews are just so dull and uninspired. As pointed out by others, I would love some deeper introspection involved with your reviews.

  • 8 9-14-2009 at 4:50 pm

    yer said...

    Learn to review k thx bye

  • 9 9-14-2009 at 6:08 pm

    Al said...

    John, how was the music in The Road? I loved the music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis in both Hillcoat’s The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James…

  • 10 9-14-2009 at 6:17 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No, John does not get paid for his work here but he does put a lot of himself into his work and that’s what I’ve asked of him. To insinuate that he doesn’t work hard covering Toronto and writing his weekly columns here is to betray an ignorance of his passions.

    Everyone reviews films differently. John tends to recount a plot synopsis and then offer a brief take, and in this capsule format, that’s all I really require of him. He is not the “official critic” of the site. Guy and I handle the bulk of reviewing duties. But any snarky dismissals of what John does offer in this week and a half span every year are unfair and, above all, unnecessary.

    If you’d love to be in John’s shoes, spend 15 years covering the festival, dedicate your life to film, head up a major film school, crank out volume after volume about top filmmakers, and then you’ll be close. Otherwise you’re just someone sniping at his or her computer and, as a result, not worth our time.

  • 11 9-14-2009 at 6:38 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    Al — the music was lovely, unintrusive and haunting — just what the film needed to enhance the mood which was deeply sad, melancholy and giving us a grand sense of loss for what was and for what will never be.

  • 12 9-14-2009 at 7:02 pm

    John said...

    Thanks for the description of the music! :-) Can’t wait to hear it.

  • 13 9-14-2009 at 7:57 pm

    Al said...

    Thanks for letting me know John (Foote). Now I really can’t wait (concurring with the other John)! Their music from “Jesse James” almost always brings me to tears, especially with “What Must Be Done.”

    By the way, for anyone who’s interested, a 2-CD set called “White Lunar” full of instrumental music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is coming out next Tuesday and it will feature music from “Jesse James,” “The Proposition,” “The Road,” some documentaries they worked on (English Surgeon, Girls of Phnom Penh), and other original music. Can’t wait…

  • 14 9-14-2009 at 9:41 pm

    Damian said...

    Did you see “El Secreto de sus ojos” from Argentina? It’s been released in the festival. Is excellent.

  • 15 9-14-2009 at 11:35 pm

    Telluride's Better than Toronto said...

    I saw this movie at the Telluride FF as well. It was not just bleak. It was emotionally bereft and irredeemably repetitive (“hey! See that empty, attractive, apparently lived-in house? Let’s just try one more time…)

    I happen to love SF/Fantasy books but I didn’t read “The Road.” And although I have been disappointed by most translations to the big screen of SF/Fantasy lit, there have been exceptions such as the Lord of the Rings trio. No matter what, if you’ve read the book before seeing the movie, you bring to the movie a whole set of expectations and knowledge about the story, the characters and their thoughts and your own reflections/projections. As far as this movie goes, I walked in mostly blank slate, hoping for an exciting, interesting movie with characters to feel strongly about and a powerful, affecting story.

    Even having chatted with the talented-and-handsome Viggo Mortensen as he came in to the theatre didn’t mitigate my extreme disappointment. [ sn.I haven’t seen such star-worship at Telluride since Mickey Rooney!]

    The plot itself seems simple, on the face of it. Dad and son head south after the end of the world, supposedly because they “won’t survive another winter” up north and with hopes of running into some form of beneficent community of survivors (one infers). Along the way there seem to be two main lessons to be imparted from father to son: first, trust no one and second, react swiftly and brutally to protect yourself. In between there’s a lot of silliness designed to shock (“It’s people…PEOPLE…!”)

    By the end of the movie, it seems all the lessons were for naught as the first person the boy meets on his own wins him over instantly. Mr. Disney seems to have conveniently showed up in the last few minutes to magically provide the perfect, family man (yep, complete with wife, two kids and an uneaten dog) whom the boy seems to have no problem immediately trusting—so much for the journey. Roll Credits. Given just the context of the movie, that kid better hope his adopted family happens to have a well-defended fortress, submachine guns with lots of ammo and a hidden grocery store. Oh yeah, that probably wouldn’t be consistent with the rest of the movie—maybe just having “a fire inside” will be enough to ensure that hope survives. Bah. This ending was the movie-equivalent of “and then he woke up.”

    Mortensen’s performance was convincing but wasted in this plodding mess and certainly not an Oscar-worthy performance. The kid wasn’t bad—I was impressed, trivially, with the fact that he’s Australian or Kiwi—wouldn’t have been able to tell from his onscreen accent. Acting-wise, he doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of dialog or character development so it’s hard to judge him too harshly.

    The film ultimately feels like Franken-movie with appropriately eerie sets, a spare, dark score and some excellent lighting mixed together with unhelpful flashbacks and uneven performances. All it needs now is to find some reason an audience should sit watching for two plus hours like compelling character development and a plot. Most importantly—it has to work for people who haven’t read the book. Oops too late.

    On the other hand, the Red Riding Trilogy, a six hour treat from the BBC, was disturbing, bleak, powerful and hair-raising. But…no US superstars. Oh well.

  • 16 9-15-2009 at 12:23 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I despise the ending, too, though it’s somewhat equally from the machine in the book as well.

    But Red Riding — if ever there was something woefully derivative. I enjoyed it, but I think I’ve seen it a million times before. The first part, as I’ve written, had its moments.

  • 17 9-15-2009 at 5:51 am

    Brian said...

    I appreciated your take on the movie and your reaction to it, but I really would have appreciated a spoiler warning about the ending. It’s going to be hard to not filter the whole film through prior knowledge of the ending.

    I know there are many who love to read scripts, etc, before seeing a movie, but beyond a general outline of the situation and early plot points, there are many like me who prefer not to know, especially since the film hasn’t even been released beyond the festival circuit.

  • 18 9-15-2009 at 6:15 am

    Bill M. said...

    I watched the film in nyc (test screening) a few months ago and as a HUGE fan of the book was really looking forward to it. Though the film was good but not great I think a lot of it had a hard time translating to the screen.

    A second viewing might be necessary when the film gets released in November. The film does not have the long lasting impact the book had as a reader and I doubt that would change.

  • 19 9-15-2009 at 7:12 am

    Jo said...

    Spoilers>> I don’t see the ending of the book as being “from the machine” – the veteran character (Guy Pearce) admits that he was watching them for some time and only approaches the boy because he appears to be alone – it’s not coincidence, it’s cause and effect. Who knows how many other “good guys” didn’t take the same chance while the father was there with his loaded gun? At the end of a long succession of grim, grimmer, grimmest, is it really so unrealistic for something vaguely good to happen? If Mary Poppins had shown up I’d be in agreement, but I really don’t see how extinguishing all hope from the ending would’ve made McCarthy’s book a better one.

  • 20 9-15-2009 at 8:43 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    More spoilers:

    The notion that he was following them for some time is so silly to me. Where the hell have they been? Why not, you know, approach them sooner, help each other out. It comes out of the blue and merely serves to explain away some of The Man’s paranoia.

    “At the end of a long succession of grim, grimmer, grimmest, is it really so unrealistic for something vaguely good to happen?”

    No, just not this.

  • 21 9-15-2009 at 2:56 pm

    Telluride's Better than Toronto said... said...

    Brian, my apologies on the spoilers notice. You are right, of course.


    To re-emphasize, I have not read the book and have no religion about the story and particularly the ending.

    All I see on-screen is that the Man taught the Boy to be justly paranoid and cautious. Asking Family-Guy Pearce on the beach, “Do you rape kids?” and “Do you have the fire (inside)?” and then handing over his weapon is NOT what the Boy learned on this journey. As Kristopher said, whether or not Family-Guy was following Man and Boy is irrelevant; the Boy did not know who Family-Guy was. Given the Boy’s experiences to date and his supposed “journey-cum-education” with the Man, dropping his weapon was the LAST thing the Boy should have done.

    Possibly reasonable endings that would not destroy the whole point of the film:

    1. Boy shoots Man (probably too grim, if justified);
    2. Boy shoots Self (much grimmer but more likely given the rest of the movie and Mom’s self-ending, plus other scenes)
    3. Michael K. Williams character shows up again and hope is reborn. At least in this case, there would have been a significant interaction and motivation already set up in the film. Williams showed he is “a good guy” because he doesn’t kill Boy while he sleeps on the beach. Man abuses Williams and leaves him naked and without hope. Boy convinces Man to leave clothes and food for Williams. HEY…instant motivation for Williams to re-appear and provide hope and a future with Boy.

    I know, I know. So much for the Boy’s search for children, so much for the perfect family avec yet-uneaten chien.

    And forgive me–I realize re-writing the ending is not legit commentary. Still, the “Williams ending” would have been motivated by the plot of the movie up to that point (such as it is).

    It wouldn’t have made up for the other shortfalls of the movie. But at least this disaster movie wouldn’t have been quite so disastrous in the “real world.”

    Think there’s time for a re-write and a bit more shooting before general release?

    Yeah, me neither.

  • 22 9-15-2009 at 3:15 pm

    Telluride's Better than Toronto said...

    Oops. I meant, in option 1. above, Boy kills Family-Guy.

    So much for generic names ;-)

  • 23 9-15-2009 at 8:01 pm

    Luke Gorham said...

    Not sure if you have read the novel, Kris, but in there it hints more at the fact idea that it isn’t a family that is following them; rather, a single man approaches the boy and suggests that there is a more constructed, organize commune of sorts nearby where he lives. He seems to suggest that they saw them recently and he alone began to follow, but waited until the father had died and thus the threat to himself had passed (he had yet to assess the safety of contact) before feeling comfortable to approach the harmless child.

    And while I loved the film and did not despise the ending, I will admit it was the weakest part of the film for me and added too pretty a bow on top of such a bleak film.

  • 24 9-15-2009 at 10:12 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, I read the novel. I kind of missed the way it panned out, but even still, it’s strangely sudden.