They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Toronto Film Festival Part 2

By J. Don Birnam

September 17, 2014

Period pieces are so boring. I could act this film in my sleep.

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One of the best, and worst, things about attending a film festival is that you are more likely to attend screenings sight unseen. By the time a movie opens commercially, it is more likely that several trailers, reviews, tweets, and other online content will have at least clued you in on what a movie is about, if not outright spoiled key elements for you.

My movie-going experience is always enhanced when I know very little about a movie, something that becomes increasingly hard to do as awards season plows along and provides over-the-top coverage of every detail about movies one hasn’t even heard of.

But attending a film festival like TIFF can provide a welcome respite from that. One can simply attend a screening based on star or director wattage (normally a huge mistake, by the way) or word-of-mouth (probably more advisable, although the Toronto audience is notably easy in most of its choices).

I knew so little about the following four movies that I saw and that I will review briefly here, that I inevitably liked them more than I otherwise would have had I seen their trailers, gotten my hopes up, and then seen how flat they were.

Like the four movies from yesterday, these four are mostly okay to pass the time, but I expect little to no awards movement from them and, entertained as I was at TIFF, remain highly concerned over the state of cinema today. And the theme persists: each movie that I saw had a clear and unmistakable analog in something else that had already been done - normally something better.


The Forger

I began the day early, with a movie starring John Travolta and Christopher Plummer about a forger (Travolta) who is forced to help a mobster to steal and forge a famous Monet in order to pay his debt to the mobster. You see, the mobster got him out of prison early so that Travolta could spend time with his dying son. The setup, as you can tell, is more than perfect.

But sight unseen, it is not immediately clear if the movie is a serious, dark, Boston crime drama (it takes place in Boston), a lighthearted family movie about reconciliations and second chances, or something in between.

Equal parts The Departed and Ocean’s Eleven, The Forger is not necessarily the most original movie I have seen. But it had truly touching scenes between Travolta and the son, and the story - dripping with sugar as it is - does move even the most cynical at least into understanding the motivations behind The Forger’s character. Thus, rather than ending up a dull turd like American Heist, The Forger at least makes you care about the characters in a real way.

And although Travolta provides one of his best performances in a long time (equal parts tortured and abject), Christopher Plummer steals the show as the cantankerous and witty grandfather who is the moral anchor to all the somewhat flailing characters. Thus, when Plummer is on screen you know the movie is delving into the comedic and even absurd.

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