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September 07, 2006
The Show that Starts the Festival

I arrived at the Ryerson Theatre at about 20 minutes to 6 this evening for the opening night of the 31st Annual Toronto International Film Festival. There was an undeniable ‘excitement’ in the air. The lineup for the film was…for want of a better word… ‘joyous’ while the Bell Canada cronies selling cell phones in the line were actually really enthusiastic (how much you want to bet they aren’t like that by Monday?).

The gentleman in front of me was amazed at the size of the line, though he was somewhat consoled by my telling him that the lineup at this particular venue tends to go all the way around a ‘block-sized’ building and even with being near the back of the line, one can still get a good seat. This same first-time festivaller had just come from seeing “The Magic Flute”, which he loved but thought “was bizarre”. He and his wife both described the cinematography as “amazing”. As we entered the theatre, we couldn’t have been more than five feet away from Cillian Murphy, signing autographs for some very excited fans. Murphy also introduced the film for us after the festival president announced that director Ken Loach was filming a new movie and, as such, couldn’t make it to the North American premiere of “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”.

Murphy also stayed behind for Q&A after the movie. Unfortunately, those who asked questions were not terribly insightful but such is life. Murphy was gracious, honest and humble. Mark my words when I say this man is going places.

Now onto the actual film…

I must make a confession. Prior to this evening, I had never seen a Ken Loach film. So I’m completely unfamiliar with his style. Though I can see what Cillian Murphy was saying in “he’s often confused with Mike Leigh” but this isn't altogether fair as “there’s a ‘strong script’…we, as actors, just aren’t privy to it”. The director’s hand is apparent in this film to the nth degree with the camera moving in the most distant of ways and the mood being at the forefront of every scene.

Unfortunately, story suffers as a result of this excessive reliance on the fashioning of mood. While the film has a definite story it is telling, the narrative consists of several dramatic shifts, most notably in the overall attitudes of characters. These do not gel as well as they should. That is not to say the scenes are not compelling. In fact, the opposite is the case, with the film becoming more enthralling as it goes on. In particular, three moments in the film that depict executions of characters are unforgettable. But that can’t take away from the fact that the overall flow of the movie is somewhat messy, with the pace a tad slow for the film’s good (particularly early on).

From an acting point of view, the three principal performances are all top-notch. Orla Fitzgerald and Padraic Delaney are both superb in crafting principled yet tragic individuals. And Cillian Murphy proves his talent – and versatility – yet again. While the character’s arc is not as natural as it should be, largely due to the rather oddly structured script, Murphy clearly contemplates every line delivery to draw the viewer into the world of yet another character the likes of which he’s yet to play to date. Get used to this man’s name and face. He’s going to be around for a long time.

Then there is the issue of the morality apparent in the film. I love Ireland. It’s a beautiful country (gorgeously captured by Barry Ackroyd, who along with “United 93”, is having a helluva year) that I’m proud to say my ancestors called home. And the Irish fight for freedom is a historical endeavour I admire immensely. Yet in many respects, the film rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t want to spoil the film so I’ll skimp on details here but let me just say that there are some actions in this film that are presented as morally right that I wouldn’t have made…and not felt the least bit badly about them.

But I’m here as a film critic…not an ethicist. And believe me when I say this film’s finale is powerful, my reservations aside.

I suppose at the end of the day I can truthfully say this film intrigued me…but I can’t truthfully say I’m that big a fan. Not really my style.

The audience was gracious and I could tell there were tears at the end, as well as a profound respect for Murphy and Loach. Though the response was not exactly overwhelming and I’ll have to speak to others who saw it to get a better idea of true consensus opinion.

After all this, I got invited out for beer and nachos! So that wasn’t a bad finale to opening night.

Keep reading…this is just the beginning.


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