Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Empire's New Tom Cruise Cover
The Jameson Empire Awards 2014
Vote: The Greatest 301 Movies Of All Time!
Rebecca Hall:
My Movie Life

The actress picks the movies that shaped her
Mountain Dew Green Screen
Register Now to see X-MEN First Class!
Empire Blogs
Words From The Wise

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Toronto 2013: Labor Day, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave

Posted on Wednesday September 11, 2013, 19:47 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: Labor Day, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years A Slave

Going into Toronto, at the top of my to-see list was Jason Reitman's Labor Day, the director's first foray into straight drama. Reitman's comedies are usually character-based, so this seemed to be no bad thing, especially with the casting of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in the leads. I have to say the result is somewhat disappointing, especially since it is clear that Reitman can certainly handle the required shift in tone, and the film's better moments involve silence and a growing sense of tension. However, I don't think too many audiences will buy into the storyline, which promises a slick, Stand By Me-like tale of a boy's Last Summer Of Childhood but actually delivers a rather creaky melodrama that veers wildly between romantic licence and outright implausibility.

It begins in the supermarket, where Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) is shopping with his introverted divorced mother Adele (Winslet). The boy is accosted by a stranger, Frank (Brolin), who gruffly obliges Adele to take him back to her home so that he can recover from an injury sustained after jumping through a hospital window. Frank, it transpires, is a murderer, but from the soft-hued flashbacks that punctuate the film we soon get the idea that he's not, you know, an actual murderer murderer. This is the first hint that things are about to go awry in the movie; next thing, Frank is washing up, sweeping the yard and changing the oil in Adele's car, until a corner is turned when the runaway con is revealed to be an excellent pastry chef too. Unsurprisingly, Adele starts to fall for Frank's multi-tasking new man charms, initially to the delight of Henry, who badly needs a father figure.

That this happens at all is a little far-fetched, but the fact that it only seems to take a weekend is indicative of what's not quite so good about this otherwise well-played and well-crafted movie. If you try hard enough, you might see a little dash of Douglas Sirk in it, with the film's central couple recalling the frustrated lovers played by Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in There's Always Tomorrow. If you're not so forgiving, the sentimentality is apt to stick in the craw, a situation not helped by an unnecessary coda that takes schmaltz into a whole new dimension.

One of the main Toronto exclusives that skipped Venice is Dallas Buyers Club, the new film from Jean-Marc Vallée, a mid-’80s-set drama that stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, a Texan electrician whose passions for sex, booze and drugs lead to infection with HIV after a one-stand with a junkie prostitute. The shocking paparazzi images of McConaughey's cadaverous look that appeared in the press recently are a sobering reflection of his performance here. Like Christian Bale in The Machinist, he is beyond gaunt, yet at the same time an electrifying, galvanising presence.

At first it seems pretty clear which way this film will go – like Philadelphia, it will see an avowed heterosexual and deeply homophobic man confront his fears and learn the value of compassion. Well, it does, but not in that same artfully contrived way – the big surprise in Vallée's film is how matter-of-fact it all is, and though by the end Ron is in business with a flouncing transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto), this is not that movie where the hard man mellows; by the end, Ron is still every bit the cantankerous curmudgeon, this time focusing his anger on the massed ranks of Big Pharma and the FDA, whose attempts to regulate the treatment of Aids patients using expensive and toxic drugs he tries to undercut by setting up a borderline-legal “buyers club” selling alternative medicine.

For me, Dallas Buyers Club was the first green shoot of awards season at TIFF this year: McConaughey is especially strong for a Best Actor nod as Woodruff, but don't under-estimate Leto's chances as the flaky, flirtatious but really rather fearless Rayon. It's a tough sell for Best Picture, but Vallée's film could be the sleeper of the season, if word of mouth gives it the all-important Hurt Locker factor.

Much more poised for awards buzz is Steve McQueen's pre-Civil War drama 12 Years A Slave (pictured), which reteams him with Michael Fassbender, who plays a secondary but significant supporting role. The real standout here, though, is Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose profile will skyrocket after this powerful and demanding film. However, although McQueen's film has ticked so many of the right boxes that the media have practically handed it the Best Picture Oscar already, 12 Years A Slave is not an assured winner. Technically, it is up to McQueen's usual high standards, and the ensemble cast is incredible (a SAG nomination is highly likely). But this is a very hard watch, not simply because it draws on such violent and emotive history but because its structure is so unforgiving and unrelenting. As the timeframe in the title suggests, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, but McQueen's film does not have the epic, classic sweep of, say, Amistad, rather the visceral, intimate nightmare feel of his feature debut Hunger: at its base, it, too, is about a man that only has one thing left in the world – his own body.

McQueen's masterstroke is to portray the story's protagonist, Solomon Northup, not as a hero but as a somewhat mild-mannered, middle-class family guy, a free man and musician who is offered work in a travelling circus and, after a night on the tiles, wakes up in chains, his identity taken from him. Solomon is nobody now, a chattel to be bought and sold, and the implications of that become horribly clear as he passes through the hands of a rondelay of slave traders and plantation owners. Like him, we have no idea how much time is passing, and the effect is profoundly disturbing. The situation becomes increasingly Kafka-esque, with Solomon shell-shocked by what he sees around him – the objectifying whites who treat blacks with contempt, and the cynical blacks who collaborate with their white paymasters. In this instance, comparisons with Holocaust stories are entirely apt; after the empowerment fantasy of Django Unchained, Solomon's chilling passivity brings home the true unvarnished horrors of the antebellum South.

It's tough to know what the film's prospects will be on the basis of one festival outing, since the film's forbidding subject matter, cyclical structure and explicit violence – the whippings are the most sustained since John Hillcoat's The Proposition – are not the stuff of crossover. Nevertheless, McQueen has created some breathtaking images here, indelibly personified in the character of slave girl Patsey (the terrific Lupita N'Yong'O) – like the girl in the red coat of Schindler's List, the very symbol of innocence destroyed, crushed by man's will to evil.

Login or register to comment.

Currently No Comments

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (432)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (56)

Words From The Wise (33)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
By Helen O'Hara

Are iPads And Smartphones Changing The Face Of Filmmaking?
By Ben Kirby

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
By Helen O'Hara

My Encounter With Shia LaBeouf
By James White

Empire Meets Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Rush’ Alter Ego
By Ally Wybrew

The Case For The Wolf Of Wall Street, Surprisingly Feminist Film
By Helen O'Hara

The Movie Drinking Games Too Dangerous To Attempt
By Helen O'Hara

Screen To Stage: From Here To Eternity
By Helen O'Hara

There's No Pixar Film In 2014. Here Are 7 Steps To Help You Survive The Wait
By Helen O'Hara

‘Is Jackie Chan Dead?’ And Other Amazing Film Questions From Google’s Auto-Suggest Function
By Ali Plumb


RECENT COMMENTS

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Because people are idiots? ;) Earnestness, honesty and a hopeful attitude are jus"  spideed2
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Captain America is not boring. Steve Rogers is boring. It's nearly impossible to "  doug64
Read comment

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
"Nice to see this review pop up - I was wondering if you'd been to see it, Helen... I agree with most"  gumphd
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"It's not that the film version of Captain America is uncool, it's the comic book character as resurr"  dansator
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I meant to say "I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned, which some folks think is "  coyoteone
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned and boring, and frankly, I'm sick of this trend "  coyoteone
Read comment

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
"Thanks for writing about this - I was thinking about going to see it but maybe not now. I remember t"  Mpyrereader
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Just back from seeing The Winter Solider and for me it's the best of the Marvel films so far. The se"  LustForLeith
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"The reason people think he is boring is because in Avengers, he pretty much is. Especially compared "  djdjk
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I think people dont give him a chance, a lot of people see a cheesy flag wearing boy scout with no c"  Aaronmantium
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Movies’ Most Quotable Lines
566 comments

'It's Just A Bit Of Fun': Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News For Movies
361 comments

Competitive Geek Baiting: Or, How To Start A Fanboy Fight
338 comments

The Avatar Backlash: Evaluatin' The Hater-atin'
303 comments

The Complete List Of Tired Movie Cliches
286 comments

Your Favourite Animated Film
217 comments

Note To Hollywood: How To Get People To Switch To Blu-Ray
192 comments

Food For Thought
132 comments

The Ten Moviegoing Commandments
127 comments

Just The Facts, Ma’am
127 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (295)
Helen O'Hara (166)
James Dyer (85)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (54)
James White (28)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Ten Things To Know About The Spooks Movie
Under the hood of The Greater Good

Who’s In Spider-Man’s Sinister Six?
A bluffer’s guide to the planned spin-off from the Amazing Spider-films

14 YouTube Videos Every Game Of Thrones Fan Should Have Watched By Now
From goats singing the theme tune to every death in under three minutes

Hollywood's Biggest Names On Their Favourite Films
Stars and directors like Nolan, Whedon, Wright and Ford on the films that inspire them

The Remake Report: Hollywood's Do-Overs Coming Our Way
The redoes, remakes, reboots, reworkings and reimaginings headed our way…

The Nebraska Playlist
Alexander Payne programmes a movie marathon for us

More Found Footage: Another 25 Trailers That Tease Missing Scenes
Further sequences that disappeared between promo and final cut

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save money on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get Limited Edition Collectable X-Men Art Cards

Subscribe today and get 6 issues of Empire plus a set of collectable X-Men Art Cards for only £20!

Subscribe today

Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Just £25
Receive limited edition subscribers-only covers every month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)