The thing about telling the truth is it gets you in trouble. I tried it recently regarding a past film festival and made enemies in an already beleaguered business that needs all the love it can get. I seem to remember a theater critic on the New York Times who got shipped to another section for too much "truthiness" in his reviews.
Well, here's a straight-shooting report on this year's Toronto Film Festival. Reactions to films being largely subjective, you can just add my takes to the hopper.
The Toronto Film Festival's standouts proved to be a clutch of superb documentaries, while too many of the feature films were wash-outs. Shout out for the features: French Canadian Denis Villeneuve's magisterial Incendies and South African Life, Above All by Oliver Schmitz, both must-sees and due to travel stateside; and on the higher profile end, Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, with its wicked, twisty humor; and Darren Aronofsky's delicious psychological thriller, which should prove a hot ticket once it bows in theaters here.
Among the feature duds count Rabbit Hole, top-lined by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. After their kid gets killed in an accident, it follows the couple through the stages of mourning, which is about as electrifying as queuing up at Toronto's Lester Pearson airport where the embalmed indifference of the officials puts the lie to Canadian bonhomie. Adapted from a play, helmer John Cameron Mitchell has failed to open it up, and the only fun on hand is ogling Aaron Eckhart's ripped pecs.
Then there's the hipper-than-thou Kaboom by Gregg Araki, who made the terrific Mysterious Skin. No point in trying to walk you through a plot. So far as I could tell it concerns a sex-crazed bisexual college boy plunging into a supernatural world of demons, cults, and Armageddon. The film, I'm told, is about "existing in a borderline psychotic, psychosexually-hyperactive imaginary universe that feels absolutely real and true." I want whatever that critic was smokin'. Sample oral sex joke: "it's a vagina, not a bowl of spaghetti." Most improbable line: "I have a huge paper due Friday." Uh, you do? I don't remember college being so much fun.
Along with Charles Ferguson's documentary Inside Job (a pick of the New York Film Festival) count another masterful doc called Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer by Alex Gibney. Though he might have appended "and Rise." The film is no broadside, but utterly objective and cool in tone. Same for Inside Job. Gotta applaud these savvy filmmakers, because instead of just preaching to the converted, their impeccable research should rope in new viewers.
A tough crusader against Wall Street, on course to become America's first Jewish President, Spitzer was famously derailed by the Justice Department's prosecution of the Emperors Club escort agency, which revealed that Client #9 was Spitzer. Though the New York Post etc. had a ball, unanswered questions remain: Did politics play a role in the investigation?
Bringing fresh insight to Spitzer's story, Gibney and writer Peter Elkind reveal that the guv's main squeeze was not Ashley Dupre, but "Angelina" who (played by an actress) talked for the first time (and don't you love that "Angelina" has gone on to work on Wall Street?). Gibney also centers the film on statements from the charismatic Spitzer, both politic and revealing, and key players.
Client 9 is plenty juicy. You can watch Spitzer admit that the escort agency caper was a form of hubris "which goes back to the Greeks," thanks for the attribution. You hear the agency's giggly Madame reveal that Dupre has a "perfect cooch." You learn that these high-end hookers look like all-American coeds. Makes it less of a transgression? Or is it compensation for the horny freshmen with dandruff who couldn't get a date with a looker?
But after we get off on the prurience factor, let's face it: how does Spitzer's need to explore sex outside his marriage impact my or anyone else's life? Hell, in France he would have been applauded for it! Testosterone, a real man, etc. Yeah, I know Spitzer did something illegal, but consider this: the Mann Act under which he was threatened with prosecution wasn't pursued in other cases.
Most crucially - if America can get off its righteous, puritanical high horse - is that Gibney's film reveals that the Wall Street titans he'd spent his career targeting were allied to choreograph Spitzer's downfall. And why wouldn't they be? He went after such a fellow as a certain Blodget, who quipped that he once made what he called 'POS' - i.e. piece of shit, or 12 million a year. He went after Goldman Sachs years before anyone else; venture capitalist Ken Langone, the New York Stock Exchange board director who signed off on an outrageous pay package for its chairman and CEO, Richard Grasso; AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. Make no mistake: Gibney trots out convincing evidence that these men maneuvered behind the scenes to unseat Spitzer. His film also brings home the lamentable fact that after the banking crisis we could well have used Spitzer's watchdog expertise.