Robert Redford's The Conspirator "is set in 1865 Washington as the fragile new post-Civil War union, just days old, threatens to unravel in the wake of President Abraham Lincoln's murder at the hands of John Wilkes Booth," explains Betsy Sharkey in a profile of Redford for the Los Angeles Times. "Since much unfolds in jails or in courtrooms, it hangs on the potent performances by its stars — Robin Wright as Mary Surratt, the only woman charged in the conspiracy, and James McAvoy as her reluctant young defense attorney — along with an ensemble knee-deep in talent and cutting across continents and generations. Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Stephen Root, Colm Meaney represent the elder statesmen, with Evan Rachel Wood, Alexis Bledel, Jonathan Groff and Justin Long leading the younger set."
"The most troubling and satisfying aspect of The Conspirator," writes Time's Richard Corliss, "is the comparison it draws between the actions taken by the Andrew Johnson administration immediately after the event of Apr 14, 1965 — the first assassination of a US President — and the Bush Administration's actions in the months and years after the events of Sept 11, 2001. In this movie, [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton is the stand-in for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; he proposes lurid theories of revolution and, when challenged, replies, 'Who's to say these things couldn't happen?' In a direct parallel to the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq as a crowd-pleasing alternative to the fruitless search for Osama bin Laden, one Surratt sympathizer says that Stanton & Co are trying Mary 'because they can't find John.' This may sound like catnip to Bush-whackers and an outrage or a yawn to everybody else. But this retelling of a crucial, poorly-remembered chapter of American law and war has enough atmosphere, stalwart acting and suspense... to appeal to the mass of moviegoers, even those indifferent to the primacy of justice over vengeance."
"The movie is angry and obvious," finds the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Redford has been righteous before, although never more effectively than in 1994's Quiz Show, which made its political points while telling a very good story with intelligence, wit, and drama. The political climate must be sapping Redford of his dramatic strength. His moviemaking is flat-footed and hollow now. It lacks the thunder, lightning, and comedy that he's capable of."
More from Justin Chang (Variety), Roger Ebert, Mike Goodridge (Screen) and Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter).
"A gang of thirty- to fortysomethings and the Little White Lies they tell one another are the subject of actor-cum-filmmaker Guillaume Canet's loosely entertaining third feature," writes Jordan Mintzer in Variety. "Modeling itself on The Big Chill, and boasting a similar all-star soundtrack, pic follows seven friends on vacation after their buddy suffers a tragic accident, causing laughs, tears and hidden sexual agendas to rise to the surface."
"The presence of the incandescent Marion Cotillard, along with such accomplished actors as Benoît Magimel (The Piano Teacher) and François Cluzet ('Round Midnight), may lure the careless cinephile," warns Mary Corliss in Time. "But be wary: each character has exactly one trait, tiresomely recombined with other characters over the film's 2½-hour span. The occasional emotional or comic connection can't redeem Little White Lies."
Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter: "Further weighing down the proceedings is a jukebox full of English-language song selections providing the Big Chill-style soundtrack and running the gamut from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Nina Simone, that too often serve to underscore the obvious."
For the LAT, Mark Olsen reports on the premiere; and for the New York Times, Mekado Murphy talks with Canet.
"Thom Zimny is astute enough to know the main reason The Promise, his documentary on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, is such a startling piece of work has little to do with him, despite his Grammy and Emmy awards," writes Keith Cameron in the Guardian. "Instead, it has much to do with a piece of Super 8 film, shot by a man named Barry Rebo, that sat on a shelf, unwatched for 30 years."
"The Promise isn't exactly The Great Rock 'N' Roll Movie," concedes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "It's still a treat for Springsteen fans though, as Zinny talks to The Boss and his employees about the tumultuous Darkness sessions, which began with lawsuits from Springsteen's fired manager and ended with Springsteen fighting to release a record that was much starker than the heavily orchestrated Born to Run."
Stephanie Zacharek in Movieline: "In the present-day interviews Springsteen is, as usual, calmly philosophical and possessed of a great deal of old-fashioned common sense as he talks about his songwriting process (after the album was finally completed, dozens of songs lay unfinished and rejected) and about how important that album was for him, as a way of paying tribute to where he came from and how hard his parents worked just to make ends meet. Though I don't expect everyone to love Bruce Springsteen, I generally distrust anyone who actively dislikes him."
Back to Cameron, here quoting Springsteen: "I was never a visionary like Dylan, I wasn't a revolutionary, but I had the idea of a long arc: where you could take the job that I did and create this long emotional arc that found its own kind of richness. Thirty five years staying connected to that idea. That's why I think the band continues to improve. You can't be afraid of getting old. Old is good, if you're gathering in life. Our band is good at understanding that equation."
The doc will be released in November as part of a massive reissue of Darkness on the Edge of Town in a couple of differently priced packages. More from Kirk Honeycutt (THR) and Rob Nelson (Variety).
Barry Blaustein's Peep World, "a comedy about a dysfunctional family of four adult siblings who remain in a serious state of arrested development, wants very much to be The Royal Tenenbaums when it grows up," writes Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter. "Trouble is, after a promisingly tart start, the strident satire stumbles and falls into a sitcom-y hole from which it never emerges, despite the game efforts of its dynamic ensemble." More from Alissa Simon (Variety).
"Infoglut and movies make poor bedfellows, only one of the reasons why [George Hickenlooper's] Casino Jack, the dramatization of the epic Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, fares no better than Alex Gibney's Abramoff doc, Casino Jack: The United State of Money," argues Robert Koehler in Variety. Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "It's like a lugubrious TV-movie version of Oliver Stone's W.: Agonizingly paced, indifferently filmed, and choked with dialogue that comes straight from press conferences and newspaper articles. [Kevin] Spacey has made a career out of projecting the smarmy arrogance of the powerful, but Casino Jack is so painfully flat that he get dragged down along with it." More from Roger Ebert, Michael Rechtshaffen (THR) and Scott Weinberg (Cinematical).
"A trio of Mossad agents are haunted by what they owe their country and one another in John Madden's polished but conventional period thriller The Debt," writes Jordan Mintzer in Variety. "Based on a 2007 Israeli film about the hunting of a fictional Nazi known as the 'surgeon of Birkenau,' the remake ups the adrenaline factor, and features strong perfs across the board [Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jesper Christensen, Marton Csokas, Jessica Chastain, Tom Wilkinson, Ciarán Hinds], yet feels bogged down by a weighty love triangle and a subject that merits more than the old-school good vs evil approach." Time's Richard Corliss: "It's less a great night out at the movies, more a reasonable Netflix rental." More from Kirk Honeycutt (THR).
"A warm, irreverent and irresistibly goofy love letter to Canada's national pastime, [Michael McGowan's] Score: A Hockey Musical pretty much says it all, serving up singing-and-dancing hockey players, gentle satire and even musical icon Olivia Newton-John, in one unapologetically pleasant package." Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter: "It also never really makes it out of the minor leagues, despite exhibiting the early potential to go on to greater things." Torontist John Semley: "When this was first announced as the opening gala film for TIFF 2010, we thought it was some kind of crazy joke. Some people may say that Score is just harmless, innocuous fun. And they may be right. But who wants to open a film festival with harmless, innocuous fun that panders to the broadest characterizations about our national identity?" But as Steven Zeitchik reports in the Los Angeles Times, nearly everyone else seems to have had a good time. More from Dennis Harvey (Variety), Leonard Klady (Screen) and Noel Murray (AV Club).
"A woman from the present becomes obsessed with tracking down a young woman from the past — for reasons even she can't quite articulate — in Sarah's Key, a staid but stubbornly involving drama," writes Tim Grierson in Screen. "Though ostensibly yet another film about the horrors of the Holocaust, director Gilles Paquet-Brenner's adaptation of Tatiana de Rosnay's novel uses the atrocity as a treatise on personal survival and new beginnings that is eloquently delivered by star Kristin Scott Thomas." More from Kirk Honeycutt (THR) and Alissa Simon (Variety).
David M Rosenthal's "Janie Jones is a tuneful family flick that may well find itself up against a good deal of cynicism given its simplistic tale of a father and daughter getting to know each other, but it is modestly watchable and driven by impressive lead performances by Abigail Breslin and Alessandro Nivola," writes Screen's Mark Adams. For Variety's Dennis Harvey, it's a "sort of cross between Crazy Heart and Paper Moon."
"Nothing comes easy in [David Schwimmer's] Trust, a drama about pedophilia that will inevitably face heavy scrutiny should it make it out of Toronto, and even with Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, there's reason to be skeptical," writes Stephen Saito at IFC.com. "It is at once an attempt to deal with one of the last taboos in a way that keeps audiences engaged and it's directed by one of the stars of Friends that refuses to employ the stylistic flourishes or overt moralizing that usually make such films easier to digest. Yet a lack of artistic creativity shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of narrative ambition." More from Ray Bennett (THR), Justin Chang (Variety) and Leonard Klady (Screen).
"The gonzo journalist movie has long been a Hollywood staple," notes Screen's Mark Adams; Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter: "Steven Silver weighs in with The Bang Bang Club, a narrative about four photographers capturing the final days of apartheid against the wartorn backdrop of South Africa, circa 1994. But rather than immersing the viewer in that harrowing environment, the bloody backdrop remains essentially just that: set dressing that waits in the wings while the film concerns itself with the sex/drugs/rock 'n' roll-lite lifestyle of its quartet of young, white, male protagonists." More from Peter Debruge; and on a related note, Iconic Photos.
THR's Kirk Honeycutt: "A Beginner's Guide to Endings, screenwriter Jonathan Sobol's debut as a director from his own script, is a dark comedy that doesn't convince you of its darkness and is never very funny."
"Extramarital temptation rears its pretty head in Last Night, an aptly gorgeous-looking Manhattan meller whose quartet of sexy actors proves no less attractive than the well-mounted pic as a whole," writes Rob Nelson in Variety. "An Indecent Proposal of sorts, the directorial debut of screenwriter Massy Tadjedin follows young and wealthy Joanna and Michael Reed (Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington) through a suspicion-filled marital quarrel that leads each to weigh the costs and benefits of cheating on the other.... That all of the characters — including the unmarried objects of desire (Guillaume Canet and Eva Mendes) — appear painfully aware of the ramifications of screwing around makes the movie an intellectual experience as much as an emotional one." More from Monika Bartyzel (Cinematical) and Kirk Honeycutt (THR).
Coverage of the coverage: Toronto 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.