Reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival cut both ways. On the one hand, they can serve as an early indicator of films destined for award gold and box-office success. On the other hand, they should be taken with a grain of salt, because they largely represent the trade end of the spectrum and are turned around quickly, without much time for deep contemplation.
That said, here's a look at five films that screened recently and which ones came out ahead, behind or somewhere in the middle.
"Foxcatcher" catches fancy. Director Bennett Miller's long-awaited first film since "Moneyball" has emerged as the darling of this year's festival, garnering rave reviews and early Oscar buzz after screening Monday. The fact-based drama tells the story of chemical fortune heir John Eleuthere du Pont (Steve Carell) and how his starry-eyed sponsorship of Olympic wrestling team members Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) led to obsession and murder.
In a Variety review, Justin Chang wrote: "This insidiously gripping psychological drama is a model of bleak, bruising, furiously concentrated storytelling, anchored by exceptional performances from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell." He went on to call it "perhaps the sole credible awards-season heavyweight to have emerged from this year's Cannes Film Festival."
Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter said the film "sees director Bennett Miller well surpassing even the fine work he did in his previous two films, 'Capote' and 'Moneyball.'"
"The Rover" finds its way. Though not as widely praised as "Foxcatcher," Australian director David Michod's "The Rover," a dystopian tale set in the post-apocalyptic outback, met with some strong reviews after screening Saturday. "Michod's sophomore feature isn't exactly something we've never seen before, but it has a desolate beauty all its own, and a career-redefining performance by Robert Pattinson that reveals untold depths of sensitivity and feeling," Scott Foundas of Variety said.
Jessica Kiang of Indiewire called it "a mark of just what a talent [Michod] is" and "a fascinating movie, flawed but occasionally brilliant."
On the other hand, Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian said, "Expectations have to be managed downwards, a little.… After a terrific start, the film begins to meander, to lose its way, and its grip."
"The Captive" is a clunker. Atom Egoyan, who won the Special Jury Prize in Cannes in 1997 for "The Sweet Hereafter," hasn't fared nearly so well with his latest effort, "The Captive," a thriller starring Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos as a couple whose daughter is kidnapped by a ring of pedophiles. The film screened Friday to a chorus of boos and has been widely panned.
The Guardian's Bradshaw declared it "a tangled and conceited mess" and said, "line by line, scene by scene, it is offensively preposterous and crass."
THR's David Rooney deemed it a "lumbering thriller" in which Egoyan "renders an already bogus story more preposterous by lathering it in portentous solemnity."
"Maps to the Stars" goes in two directions. David Cronenberg has always been a polarizing filmmaker, and his new movie, a biting Hollywood satire starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack, is no exception.
Some critics have praised "Maps," including Robbie Collin of England's the Telegraph, who described it as "not so much a twisted dream of making it in show-business, as a writhing, hissing, Hollywood waking nightmare." Apparently that's a good thing: "It's the Canadian director's best film at least since 'Spider,' in 2002, and could conceivably lead to his first Palme d'Or."
Variety's Peter Debruge, on the other hand, said the film "struggles to mix its various genres: Part showbiz sendup, part ghost story, part dysfunctional-family drama, the movie instead comes across as so much jaded mumbo-jumbo."
"The Homesman" welcomed back. Nine years after his well-received directorial debut at Cannes, Tommy Lee Jones returns with his second film in the director's seat, with similar results. Jones does double duty here, starring in the western as a claim jumper who is rescued by a pioneer woman (Hilary Swank) and enlisted to bring a trio of ailing women across Nebraska.
"Jones has created a beautifully crafted, heartbreaker of a tale that will find a ready welcome among older audience attracted by the unusual subject matter and the classical, unfussy elegance of the storytelling," Screen International's Allan Hunter said.