Editor's Note: We can't all make it to the Toronto International Film Festival (which is too bad, since it's where some of the best films of the next year will be shown). But CT has the next best thing: daily updates during the Festival from our critic Ken Morefield. Stay tuned for the next week for capsule reviews and reflections on some of the world's most important movies.
Devil's Knot, directed by Atom Egoyan
Night Moves, directed by Kelly Reichardt
The Dark Matter of Love, directed by Sarah McCarthy
On Monday at TIFF, two high-profile directors presented films that left me curious after watching them and confused after listening to the directors discuss them.
Devil's Knot, Atom Egoyan's highly anticipated chronicle of the West Memphis Three, has a lot of ground to cover. It wants to summarize for those who have never seen the Paradise Lost documentary, present a small town in the grip of satanic panic, give a psychological portrait of a grieving mother, and champion the idealism of an investigator who stands up for due process while he thinks the accused are still guilty.
Egoyan stated in the post-screening discussion that the film was about "living with doubt," but the film doesn't really have any. It concludes with the most sympathetic character stating what he "knows in his heart" and a typed postscript informing the audience the trio of convicted murders were eventually released by the state of Arkansas and that DNA evidence pointed to another individual.
Strong performances from Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth keep the film afloat. But when one character is baptized late in the film and the minister whispers to her that God will never give her a larger load than she can carry, it is hard to know whether Egoyan is painting her faith sympathetically or mocking the notion of organized religion at all. Similarly, after showing "experts" risibly tying occult murder to heavy metal music, the film uses that very music during a perp walk, suggesting that the crowd's hatred towards and scapegoating of the boys is an evil best symbolized by . . . heavy metal music.
Kelly Reichardt tells a simpler tale in Night Moves and yet the reticence of her main character, played by Jesse Eisenberg (also at the festival in The Double), means that the emotions of the would-be ecoterrorist remain a matter of conjecture. Reichardt claimed the film was, to her, a character study rather than a political or ideological argument, but she declined to discuss the character's fate, mentioning twice that she was being recorded and apparently concerned that plot spoilers would ensue.
That didn't stop Eisenberg from fleshing out his own beliefs about his character's back story and the motivations that his director claimed little interest in. Reichardt also said she was interested in breaking down the plot to blow up a dam.
It is certainly fine to have a director more interested in "how" and an actor who is at least willing to talk about "why," but the cryptic driblets from the Q&A left the impression that film might have benefitted from more story development before production. It's a Reichardt film, so it is visually interesting and filled with great performances. It lacks the emotional payoff of Wendy and Lucy, however—not just because these characters do unsympathetic things, but also because they hold us at arm's length while doing them.