At the opening night of the Philadelphia Film Festival, James Foley, director of the headliner Confidence, talked to the audience for a few minutes. Amidst the chewing of his gum, Foley was very confident and suave in discussing his attachment to Philadelphia, foreshadowing what was to come on film. His speech, like his film, was nothing extraordinary -- but it was certainly entertaining.
Edward Burns, star of Confidence, makes a case for stardom as Jake, the cool, calm and collected player who scams all sorts of people (dealers, businessmen, bankers) out of their money. While not Burns' best performance, it is as colorful as Foley's vivid, urban scenery. Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Rachel Weisz and Paul Giamatti join Burns in the heist flick, a talented and tight ensemble cast that makes this standard heist flick hipper and funnier than most in the genre. Foley's film drags at times, but the twists and turns are worth the wait. Like Ocean's Eleven, Foley lulls the viewer into complacency, only to turn the tables in the final act. One of the other hyped flicks at the festival, The Secret Lives of Dentists, also fails to disappoint. Alan Rudolph delves into the home life of two dentists, David and Dana Hurst (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis), who fight the stress of working together, dealing with three children, and keeping their marriage together. Rudolph, who described the film as one for "parents who need to get a babysitter," presents a brilliant, albeit depressing, portrait of the pitfalls of marriage. Denis Leary, who stars as a patient of David's and also David's raging id, comes from the Tyler Durden line of character development, but his sharp wit and delivery make up for the resemblences to the head of Fight Club. As weird as Denis-as-Durden sounds, it doesn't compare to the plot of Love Object. Desmond Harrington stars as Kenneth, an instruction manual writer who purchases a sex doll, one which eventually takes over his life. Romantic triangles are usually not that good, but writer/director Robert Parigi crafts a creepy romance-turned-horror film. This film won't sit well with the squeamish, but anyone looking for some oddities in the festival are sure to love Love Object, but hopefully not too much.
The only disappointment of the weekend was Fuehrer Ex, the German import set in 1990 about two young men thrown in jail for trying to flee East Germany. The film isn't interested as much in history as it is in portraying one man's descent into Neo-Nazism. This is all well and good, except we've seen it all before: American History X, anyone? Director Winfried Bonengel's jail scenes are sometimes captivating, but with so many other great films debuting over the weekend, Fuehrer Ex's inconsistency doomed it to the bottom of the fest's opening weekend highlights.