What cinematic goodies and duds did the 2012 Sundance Film Festival deliver? (The fest ran from Jan. 19 to 29 this year.) Owen Gleiberman weighs in on the first half of the proceedings
Richard Gere has never been more likable or intensely alive as an actor than he is in Nicholas Jarecki’s tasty financial thriller. He plays a silver fox of an investment titan who’s trying to sell off his company (but is hiding a $400 million hole in its assets), and we’re torn between wanting to see him get what he deserves and wanting to see him get away with it. The movie induces a stomach-churning high-finance vertigo.
Josh Radnor, who’s like Paul Rudd’s puppyish cousin, directs and stars in a sharply thoughtful comedy about a 35-year-old dude who returns to his Midwestern liberal-arts college and becomes involved with a 19-year-old sophomore. The movie deftly satirizes the brainy-boho romance of undergraduate life, and Elizabeth Olsen, as the precocious Zibby, proves she has star power to spare.
West of Memphis
I went into this documentary about the West Memphis Three fearing it would be Paradise Lost 4: Beating a Dead Horse. But no. Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Amy Berg, it exonerates Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. by digging into the evidence in newly dogged detail, and by going after suspect Terry Hobbs with an intensity that casts a hypnotic dark spell. (Hobbs maintains his innocence.)
Beasts of the Southern Wild
A festival favorite, though not to me. It’s an anthropological fairy tale set in the Mississippi Delta among a group of shack dwellers so poor and removed that it would be absurd to say they live on the wrong side of the tracks. (There would have to be tracks first.) Director Benh Zeitlin uses a cast of nonactors, yet he doesn’t so much create scenes as hold his wavery camera in front of them and wait for something to happen, which it seldom does.
Robot & Frank
Sentimental high-concept fluff done with style. The movie is set in the near future, when a lonely, aging former cat burglar with Alzheimer’s, played with gruff magic by Frank Langella, teams up with the domestic robot who’s been hired to look after him. The droid, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, is never too cuddly — he really is a machine — but the tiny beauty of the movie is that Langella becomes his friend only because neither of them can quite connect with anyone.
The Invisible War
Kirby Dick’s shocking and important documentary shines a spotlight on the incendiary issue of rape inside the U.S. military — an epidemic that’s mostly been swept under the rug. The testimony of the victims, including a number of men, is powerful, but the film is most damning when it elaborates how our military codes of conduct have not just blamed the victims but excoriated them.