TIFF 2016

'Deepwater Horizon', 'Moonlight', 'Carrie Pilby' and 'The Magnificent Seven'

by Stephen Mayne

15 September 2016

Kids in America: Day 7 at TIFF stays firmly in the land of the brave for two very different coming-of-age stories, an oil disaster and plenty of shooting.
Mark Wahlberg in Deepwater Horizon (2016) 

There’s a feeling of deflation that sets in towards the end of festivals. Schedules are front loaded with premiere screenings and delegates tend to leave from the mid-point on. The only way to fight it is to keep watching. Today, the penultimate one I’ll spend at TIFF 2016 belonged to America with four films, all set south of the Canadian Border.

We started big with Deepwater Horizon. A Mark Wahlberg disaster feature sounds like something that might fall prey to a bit of stupidity. Given it’s the story of a real life event that happened only a few years ago, it’s thankfully handled with only a little unneeded Hollywood melodrama. The disaster that destroyed the drilling rig off the Louisiana coast killed 11 people and decimated the environment of the local area. Peter Berg’s film focuses on the immediate event rather than the long and destructive aftermath.

Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, one of the workers on the rig. He has a wife and child (the most unnecessary scenes feature them together, or worrying after him) and seems to be having premonitions that something might go wrong. With BP bigwigs led by John Malkovich eager to push ahead despite safety concerns, something has to give. Who cares about safety when money’s at stake?

Over the concerns of Kurt Russell’s rig boss Jimmy Harrell, they force the issue by ordering drilling. The build-up and immediate blowout scenes are incredibly tense, the highlight of Deepwater Horizon. Berg wisely keeps most of the story on the rig, turning it into a terrifying inferno with everyone trying desperately to escape, except Wahlberg, who strolls around heroically for a while. Berg can’t help a few of these diversions, but on the whole attention remains on the disaster.

Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight (2016)

Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight (2016)

That marked the first of three trips to the Imax screen today, which might sound like a good thing, but boy do they crank up the AC in there. I decided it looked hot outside again so I’d worn shorts. Cold as it was in the theater, there was no way I was missing Moonlight. Barry Jenkins’ second feature played at Venice to rave reviews, and had a similar response earlier in the week when it came to Toronto. I finally caught it and wasn’t disappointed, as Jenkins deals with identity over three periods in a young black man’s life.

Moonlight starts with Chiron as a kid before moving to teenage and then young adult segments. A quiet, sensitive boy, he has a drug addict mother who prostitutes herself to get a fix. He’s also regular prey for bullies, is grappling with his sexuality, and eventually leans towards a life dealing on the streets. It’s understated and thought-provoking, asking what we see when we glance at Chiron and showing there’s always more than immediate stereotypes might suggest. I found that the longer the day went on the more I couldn’t shake it this film from my mind.

Bel Powley in Carrie Pilby (2016)

Bel Powley in Carrie Pilby (2016)

Finally, a reprieve on the Imax front for the third film as I moved to a screen down the corridor for Carrie Pilby. Adapted from Caren Lissner’s novel, Susan Johnson’s film provided a pleasant enough distraction after the intensity of Moonlight. Carrie (Bel Powley) is a precociously talented 19-year-old, already a year out of Harvard. Lacking direction, she mooches around New York alone, occasionally visiting a therapist who tries to help her find happiness with a mini-bucket list. Thus, she gets to buy a pet, go on a date, and make friends. It’s a classic coming-of-age territory.

There’s nothing special about Carrie Pilby. As a comedy it comes with almost zero laughs, and as a drama Carrie never feels real nor do any of those around her, not least William Moseley’s implausibly perfect love interest. It’s pleasant enough viewing though, and adds a few nice touches that subvert gender expectations. The end message, although straying a little close to love is all you need, just about manages to teach that happiness is a gradual process that comes from within.

Denzel Washington in The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Denzel Washington in The Magnificent Seven (2016)

With the sensitive and emotional cinema done for the day, it was time to finish with The Magnificent Seven. The opening night film received a bit of a panning, as is traditional with the Toronto Film Festival. That didn’t stop people from queuing to get in for the repeat screening, of course, and with expectations duly lowered, it proved to be perfectly acceptable escapism.

The plot, given the amount of times this story has been told, not least in the original, comes as no surprise. A town under threat in the Old West hires a ragtag collection of mercenaries to protect it. Cue a fortification construction, team building, and training montage. Then it ends on a giant shootout.

No one, not even Denzel Washington or Chris Pratt, proves overly memorable. The seven misfits actually seem to spend more time telling incomprehensible jokes before collapsing into laughter. Then they shoot everyone it all works out OK. Except for the ones who die, but who cares about that? After so many thought-provoking films, it’s rather nice to watch the opposite.

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