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DiCaprio asks tough questions in Before the Flood. (Photo courtesy of TheWrap.com.)

Toronto International Film Festival 2016 Roundup

Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by

After months of waiting, it’s finally here—the holiest of weeks for Canadian film buffs—the Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF, as it’s colloquially known). From September 8th to the 18th, Toronto is transformed into a mecca for moviegoers and celebrity sightings. Out of the many films premiering, here is a breakdown of the four that have generated the most buzz this festival season.

 

Free Fire

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, and Sam Riley

A loud, rollicking ride from start to finish, Free Fire opens with a seemingly uneventful business transaction between two criminal groups and quickly devolves into chaos  when two members from the opposing parties have a violent disagreement. Brie Larson’s role is effectively reduced to the token “hot girl” in the boys’ club—her sex appeal leads to squabbles between some of the male characters. However, Armie Hammer’s understated comedic ability shines through, alongside other more clownish standouts Sharlto Copley (District 9) and Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). The rapid-fire dialogue, pop culture references (hello, John Denver), and scenes of bloody mayhem echo Quentin Tarantino and will surely be a treat for anyone who’s a fan of his works.

 

Before the Flood

Director: Fisher Stevens 

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio

From producers Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio, the latter of whom acts as narrator, this documentary on climate change is 2006s An Inconvenient Truth, and offers virtually no new information for those who have seen its predecessor. Taking on the role of eager-to-learn student, DiCaprio interviews Pope Francis, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and US President Barack Obama, as well as figures in the scientific community and oil industry. He travels as far as China, Indonesia, and the North Pole to see firsthand how human activity has affected different ecosystems across the globe. It’s hard not to laugh when he solemnly compares the appearance of the Alberta oil sands to Mordor from Lord of the Rings and as he continually asks his guests dumbed-down questions. However, if DiCaprio’s star power can draw in larger audiences of those who are uninformed or unconvinced about the existence of global warming, that can only be a good thing.

 

American Pastoral

Director: Ewan McGregor

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Rupert Evans, and Uzo Aduba

The most disappointing of the four films reviewed here, American Pastoral is an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Seymour “Swede” Levov and the destructive impact of sociopolitical movements on his idyllic upper middle-class, suburban family life. In his directorial debut, Ewan McGregor tries too hard to touch on everything the book had more time to explore. In doing so, the film leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. As an actor, he does an adequate job of physically embodying Swede, but demonstrates no real depth of character. Both Jennifer Connelly (Reqiuem for a Dream) and Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) are underused as the Swede’s beauty queen wife and one of his top employees, respectively. Although Dakota Fanning delivers a promising performance as Swede’s troubled daughter Merry, the movie’s shaky tone and uneven, uninspired storytelling prove to be its downfall. 

Snowden

Director: Oliver Stone

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage

As the title suggests, Snowden is a biographical account of the events surrounding the June 2013 leak of classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA), courtesy of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as the socially withdrawn Snowden—though his accent is a bit overkill. Director Oliver Stone adeptly provides ample reasoning for why Snowden willfully committed what the US Government determined was an act of treason. Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay in an unremarkable turn for the actress. Rounding out the supporting cast are Rhys Ifans and Nicolas Cage, both in great form as two government officials on opposite ends of the moral spectrum. A riveting piece of political commentary that is ever more relevant in light of the upcoming American presidential election. Keep an eye out for this one at the Oscars.

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