42nd Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Five

Monday, September 11th, 2017 by Ian Evans

It’s day five and Roy Thomson Hall is hosting Andy Serkis’ feature directorial debut, Breathe. It’s based on the true-life story of Robin Cavendish, the father of Serkis’ producing partner, Jonathan Cavendish. Jonathan commissioned William Nicholson to write the screenplay, and the film stars Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, and Tom Hollander.

Asked what he admired about Robin Cavendish, the man he plays, Garfield said that he admired his humility and his longing to serve people. Director Andy Serkis said that as an actor himself, he understands as a director that the actors need the space to create. As a friend and business partner of the film’s subject’s son, he had a vested interest in the story and with both parents having healthcare backgrounds, it’s a subject matter that’s dear to him.

Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour was up next in the Gala slate. It stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, who was thrust into becoming the Prime Minister when the UK seemed to be facing imminent defeat at the hands of Adolf Hitler. How does a man nobody wanted convince a nervous government and nation to keep on fighting?

At a press conference earlier in the day, Oldman said at first the idea of playing Churchill was daunting. “Initially I was very wary of doing it just because, not only is he so iconic and so famous, there have been a great many actors who have played him before me. You know, when you’ve got people like Richard Burton, Albert Finney, and Robert Hardy, you know you’ve got big shoes to fit into.” He added that watching newsreel footage gave him a way into finding the man he had to play.

Over at the VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Angelina Jolie was presenting First They Killed My Father. It’s based on the memoir by Loung Ung, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jolie, and tells the story of the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

Jolie, who says she now prefers a career behind the lens, attended the premiere with all six of her children. Two of them — Pax and Maddox — worked behind the scenes on the film with her. Both of the films she has at TIFF — she’s also here for The Breadwinner — deal with young girls facing the horrors of war and Jolie said that they’re important stories to tell because no one is more vulnerable in those situations than a child but especially a female child.

The night at the VISA ended with Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, a 19th-century western that tells the story of an Army captain (Christian Bale) who escorts a dying chief (Wes Studi) back to his tribal lands. The film also stars Rosamund Pike, Jesse Plemons, and Adam Beach. People attending the screening could be forgiven for not recognizing Bale. The actor, who famously went bone-thin for The Mechanic, was carrying quite a few extra pounds from his upcoming portrayal of Dick Cheney.

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing had its premiere at the Elgin. Starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, the film follows a couple who miniaturize themselves as part of a social trend to reduce the use of global resources. What happens when you go from the real world to a mansion the size of a doll house?

Also at the Elgin, director Guillermo del Toro unveiled The Shape of Water, in which Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer play two workers who come across a terrifying Cold War experiment being conducted on an amphibious creature.

Doug Jones, who has worked with del Toro on six films, said that the director asked him to come up with a performance that was “a real, raw animal from the wild…but we have to fall in love with him.” Jones said that was a challenge he had to accept. Actor Richard Jenkins said that del Toro is “an artists…an auteur…it’s like working with an old school master.” Ron Perlman, who worked with del Toro on Hellboy said his friend has “an imagination like no one else and an intellect to match.”

Guillermo del Toro, who is now a Toronto resident, said that when he was a young boy he saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon and hoped that the creature would get together with the woman. It didn’t, but he joked that it’s taken him 25 years of filmmaking to correct that mistake.

The always remarkable Frances McDormand headlines Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which had its premiere at the Ryerson Theatre tonight. McDormand plays a grieving mother frustrated by the local police force’s lack of progress in finding her daughter’s killer. Most of her anger at the force is directed at the chief (Woody Harrelson) and his immature second-in-command (Sam Rockwell).

At a press conference earlier in the day, director Martin McDonagh said that he had written the role with McDormand in mind a few years back and “if she hadn’t said yes, we’d have been screwed. I don’t know what we would have done.”

McDormand acknowledged that she almost didn’t take the part. “Because at the time he gave it to me I was 58,” she said. “I was concerned that women from this socioeconomic strata did not wait until 38 to have their first child. So we went back and forth and we debated that quite for a while, and then finally my husband (Joel Coen) said, ‘Just shut up and do it.‘”

Up next at Ryerson was Peter Landesman’s Mark Felt – The Man Who Brought Down the White House. Felt (Liam Neeson) was the FBI’s Associate Director during Watergate. When the White House begins threatening the independence and integrity of the FBI, Felt sees it as a threat to democracy and the constitution and becomes Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s infamous source known only as “Deep Throat”. Though it traces events from the 1970s, its not much of a stretch to see parallels to the current situation with the FBI and the dismissal of James Comey in the midst of the Russia investigation.

The evening at Ryerson ended with the Midnight Madness screening of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist. It pays tribute to quirky filmmaker Tommy Wiseau and his movie The Room, a movie so bad that it has become a cult classic.

Franco walked the carpet with Wiseau at Ryerson. Franco said that he saw it as a classic Hollywood story about artists — outsiders — trying to make it in the notoriously hard to break into world of Hollywood.