What went down Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival? Some juicy, star-filled movies that have acquisitions execs buzzing. Let’s check in.
Plot: An ultra-rich hedge fund magnate (Richard Gere) is trying desperately to cover up some financial misdeeds … and then boom: He accidentally kills his mistress in a car crash. Now he’s got to cover that up, too, and all the while, his wife (Susan Sarandon), daughter (Brit Marling), and a relentless detective (Tim Roth) are closing in on the truth.
Reaction: At first, Arbitrage seems to be hitting many of the same beats as Margin Call – the rich panicking that they’ll no longer get richer – but that car crash energerizes the movie, which is tightly written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Gere’s character thinks he’s doing the right thing in covering up his crimes, since his family and investors will be devastated if the truth comes out … and yet the longer the picture goes on, the more it becomes clear that he’s simply covering his own ass and rationalizing each additional innocent he has to sacrifice. “Familiar but not stale,” said THR’s Todd McCarthy, adding, “it has strong commercial potential.” The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick went even further, calling Gere’s performance the best of his career.
Robot and Frank
Plot: In the near future, a grown son (James Marsden) loses his patience for visiting his elderly, forgetful father (Frank Langella), and instead buys him a robot companion (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard). Ex-thief Frank, who spends most of his time visiting the library (run by Susan Sarandon), eventually warms up to his robot friend and finds a partner in crime. With Liv Tyler as Langella’s globe-trotting daughter.
Reaction: First-time director Jake Schreier has taken a cutesy premise and turned it into a small, moving buddy comedy about the demise of human communication. The technological advances it imagines are low-fi and delightful. A real gem (and there haven’t been that many so far at this festival), with Frank Langella giving a performance that should be rewarded long after he leaves Park City.
Plot: Stacy Peralta (Riding Giants, Dogtown and Z-Boys) flashes back to the 1980s to profile Bones Brigade, his team of wunderkind skateboarders that counted Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen and Tommy Guerrero among its original crew. Between Peralta narrating and the team members, now in middle age, reminiscing, the film shows how Peralta groomed a group of relative unknowns into a team that “paved the way to make money in skateboarding.”
Reaction: The skills and tricks are awesome to behold, even in grainy ‘80s footage, but it’s not just about the tricks: This is as much a coming-of-age film as it is a sports documentary. The team members endear themselves to you as they tell tales from the good ol’ days, while touching on the stress of being a teen (and contending with parents who disapproved of skate culture). It helps that these guys are extremely likable – they’re funny, honest and, in the case of Mullen, downright poetic. Bones Brigade is also an interesting account of the evolution of skateboard culture, from formal skate park competitions to backyard half-pipe parties to today’s freestyle revolution. It’s not Peralta’s most riveting or adrenalized documentary, but it has a lot of heart.
Lay the Favorite
Plot: Florida stripper Beth (Rebecca Hall) moves to Las Vegas and gets mixed up with a bunch of gamblers and bookies, including Bruce Willis (who she has an affair with) and Vince Vaughn. Catherine Zeta-Jones costars as Willis’s wife.
Reaction: With this cast and director Stephen Frears at the helm, buyers and media were anticipating big things … and found a dud. The Film Stage called it a “grating misfire,” while Hitfix’s Kris Tapley tweeted, “Lay the Favorite is terrible. Even Rebecca Hall’s considerable bubbly hotness can’t save it.”