The Hunter, starring Willem Dafoe & Sam Neill. The Ides of March with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney (who also directed). TIFF got off to a great start for me with two excellent studies in moral ambiguity.

In The Hunter, Dafoe is sent by a bio-tech company to return with the organs of the last Tasmanian Tiger. It was hard to be invested in a guy out to cause an extinction, and using inhumane traps in a country where they are outlawed. But the film pulls it off, and while you will hate how it ends, it seems inevitable – and possibly the only sensible if not obviously moral choice. All through the film I kept thinking how much difference better film stock might have made to the film’s commercal potential, because it had everything else going for it. A Hollywood film (think the Scott brothers) would have made the wilderness more vivid and colour saturated, and increased the visual impact of the stunning natural landscapes.

The Ides of March, my friend Mark characterized as being populated by slimeballs. They are all politicians or aiming to get those slimeballs elected. Enter Ryan Gosling as the upstart looking to gain a reputation by needing to believe in what he is doing. This was a bit more obvious in that the plot twists and conclusion can be seen from afar. But the acting is stellar all around. Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly matched by his rival Paul Giamatti – anyone else in either role would have seemed a comparative lightweight. Clooney gave himself the least challenging role, but one for which he seems tailor made. Gosling was just disconnected enough emotionally to make the ambiguity work – there was never an obvious choice for him, always shades of grey. Can’t wait to also see him in Drive (for which I was unable to get TIFF tickets, but it opens in another week).

Both of these films are highly recommended, and I expect to see mention of them at Oscar time. The Hunter may be a tougher sell with its slower pace, and limited cinematography palette, but Dafoe deserves strong consideration. Ides of March should get some attention for both best picture and direction, but I would split my supporting actor vote.

Tomorrow – Coppola.

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