There may not be two films at the Toronto International Film Festival with less in common than Paul Thomas Anderson'sambitious midcentury epic "The Master" and Martin McDonagh's blood-soaked Hollywood satire "Seven Peychopaths." Their back-to-back gala premieres Friday night embodied the scope and range of this year's300 film survey of contemporary world cinema. As TIFF director Piers Handling said, "This year's festival [presents] bold, adventuresome work coming from established and emerging filmmakers."
Restless crowds thronged the block outside the Princess of Wales theatre for Anderson's story of spiritual yearning and personal conflict in postwar America. The film's screening was delayed a full hour past the scheduled 8 p.m. for reasons unexplained. The packed throng speculated over technical challenges with the film's 70mm print, a format rarely used in the new age of digital projection, or gossiped that somebody who knew somebody heard that a star celebrated too much before the red carpet.
The film presents Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled WWII Navy vet who falls under the sway of aself-proclaimed religious prophet played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Incidents in the episodic story reflect episodes in the history of Scientology, but the emotional focus of the piece is the affectionate but troubled bond between the self-assured cult leader and his violence-prone acolyte. As is typical in Anderson works such as "Magnolia" and "There Will Be Blood," the film's themes are rich and its images are sometimes surreal. "The Master"demands an unusual degree of intellectual effort from viewers. A small but steady trickle of audience members defected through the film's two hour and 17 minute run time.
In contrast, "Seven Psychopaths" is candy on a plate. Presented in the festival's action-themed Midnight Madness program, the film stars Colin Farrell as a boozing screenwriter stalled on a screenplay about mad murderers, Inspiration arrives in unwelcome form when a friend's dog-kidnapping scheme nabs the beloved pooch of a Mafia boss. The subversively witty film skewers mindless body count movies while delivering their guilty pleasures by the bucketful. The crowd lustily cheered when costars Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken joined Farrell and McDonagh for a post-screening question and answer session. When Walken said he was glad to be cast as a dangerous con man because "the kinds of roles I get now are uncles and grandfathers," the laughs and applause showed that many movie lovers want to postpone those golden-years parts as long as possible.
The festival continues through Sept. 16.