Technically, the Toronto International Film Festival opened last Thursday, the 9th. However, Mrs. Z and I didn’t arrive in the city until late on Sunday. We didn’t get a chance to see any movies that night, so our festival-going finally started in earnest on Monday. We did, however, cram in three movies on that first day. Among them were at least two hotly-anticipated titles: ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Let Me In’. Follow after the break for a brief rundown.
‘Never Let Me Go’
This adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro was directed by Mark Romanek (‘One Hour Photo’). It’s an incredibly difficult book to adapt, because Ishiguro very slowly lays out the story in such a way that its true nature isn’t revealed until at least halfway through. How do you make a movie faithful to that – and, just as importantly, how do you promote such a movie without giving away the whole show? This film is going to be a very tough sell for a mass audience.
Having read the book, it’s also difficult to divorce my expectations from what the film actually is. Romanek condenses significant portions of the story (which is to be expected), but he also makes a few major changes that I’m undecided in my feelings about. The first and most significant is that the director has decided to forgo any mystery or suspense about the basic premise of the story. He more or less admits right up front what’s going on, and then just gets on with the story. Along with this, Romanek also explicitly sets the story in specific times and places, whereas Ishiguro left those details intentionally vague. Are these changes really detrimental to the film as a film, or am I just disappointed because they’re different than the novel? I’m not sure.
In the movie’s favor, Romanek has nailed down the tone of the piece, which was perhaps its most challenging aspect to capture. Most of the performances (from the likes of Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley) are very strong, though I feel many of the actors are a bit too old for the roles. Future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield is also a prominent character. I’m not as sold on him. He’s kind of annoying for much of the movie, but I did finally start to warm up to him by the end.
Rachel Weisz stars in this film (based on a true story) about a Nebraska cop who takes a job as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia and uncovers a vast conspiracy involving illegal sex trafficking. This is an Issue movie with a capital “I”. It’s made with great passion by first-time Canadian director Larysa Kondracki, and is truly harrowing at times. And yet, it’s also quite preachy and heavy-handed. It’s this year’s ‘Beyond Borders’ or ‘A Mighty Heart‘. I guess Angeline Jolie wasn’t available this time.
I was annoyed by how long Weisz’s character continues to act so naïve about the corruption around her, and by how simplistically evil many of her adversaries are portrayed.
Weisz, Kondracki, and Kathryn Bolkovac (the actual woman the story is based on) stayed for a Q&A afterwards. Without saying as much, Bolkovac implied that the real story was much more complex than how it was depicted in the movie.
I would say that this is overall a good movie, but was certainly the least of the three we saw that day.
Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, and Monica Belluci also have small supporting roles.
‘Let Me In’
What a challenge it must have been for director Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield‘) to remake the beloved Swedish vampire movie ‘Let the Right One In‘. Initial clips released by the studio looked fairly promising, but recent trailers have been absurdly cheesy. Did Reeves desecrate a film loved by so many, or is the studio just selling it badly?
Relax. The studio is just selling it badly. Really.
The remake is exceedingly faithful to the original film – at times shot-for-shot. It’s been Americanized, but in ways that make perfect sense for the new setting. Reeves has changed a few things (the remake is more overtly a horror film in some ways), but has captured the critical tone of the piece and the character relationships flawlessly. There’s nothing watered down here. This is a very dark, bleak, and sometimes brutally violent story.
Reeves has removed one important shot from the original film. (I think most fans can guess which shot I’m referring to.) I’m not sure whether that was his decision or a studio mandate. Regardless, the weird psycho-sexual dynamic between the characters is otherwise fully intact.
The performances by Chloe Grace Moretz (from ‘Kick-Ass‘) and Kodi Smith-McPhee (from ‘The Road‘) are outstanding. Smith-McPhee in particular really just nails the role. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas also have important parts.
For a remake, ‘Let Me In’ also has a life of its own. I found myself so caught up in the story that I rarely felt burdened by comparisons to the original.
The only significant misstep here is that Reeves inserts some really bad and distracting CGI into a few scenes. This is certainly not enough to derail from the movie’s better qualities, but it stands out something awful.
‘Let Me In’ was easily the best of the three movies we saw on Monday. It’s an excellent film, and will probably do terribly at the box office. Go see it when it’s released.