As more actors gravitate towards directing, inquiring minds want to know: Are they any good?
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14 Sep 2010 - 12:24 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 3:05 PM

TORONTO: Festivals are traditionally a cakewalk for actors: You slap a few backs on the red carpet, ping your smile at a press conference, and then suck back some shots and canapé chasers at the premiere before hightailing it out of town. And yet this year almost a dozen actors have directorial efforts screening at TIFF, and you know which ones when you see them: they're wound tighter than a publicist with an overbooked guest list.

Early adopters of the actor-director mantle Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford both have films screening here, although the news is not great for either. Snoozy and hackneyed are words being applied to both Eastwood's Hereafter and Redford's The Conspirator, with the latter film's chances of finding a distributor hanging in the balance.

At the other end of the spectrum of a transition that is increasing considered essential for serious actors is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who marks his directorial debut with Jack Goes Boating (pictured). As I schlepped directly from Jack into a screening of Casey Affleck's debut (also playing at TIFF), meta-monstrosity I'm Still Here, I ran into a colleague who got right to the point: “So, can he direct?” What I replied, in a fit of uncharacteristic diplomacy was, “Wellll, he can certainly gather good actors together and get them to perform really well.”

That's my way of saying no, not that I could tell. The story of the titular New York schlub, played by Hoffman, Jack suffers from some classic rookie mistakes. A slight story prone to actorly self-indulgence, the main plot and the characters of Jack, his fellow limo driver Clyde (John Ortiz), Clyde's wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and Jack's prospective love interest Connie (played by Amy Ryan) were developed within the theatre group that Hoffman runs, and despite some smooth cinematic moves (when Jack is told to visualise himself swimming we jump behind his eyelids with him) and subtle supporting performances, it shows.

It's a little disappointing, as well, to see Hoffman playing an even more extreme version of the arrested, timorous type he played for other directors in Synecdoche, New York and Love Liza. He and Ryan, playing would-be lovers who enter respective pseudo-training regimens to get ready for the love obviously ready to blossom between them, have some lovely (as well as downright funky) moments, however, and it's a pleasure to watch them chatter like fond children once they overcome their fear of speaking at all.

So, can he direct? It was the same question asked of Ben Affleck after Gone Baby Gone was released in 2007. All critical signs seemed to point to yes, though I was not among the yay-sayers. His follow-up, The Town, is the swishy talk of the festival (as is star Jeremy Renner's performance and hard partying). Also eagerly anticipated are Trust by David Schwimmer, The Way by Emilio Estevez, Tony Goldwyn's Conviction, the eminent (just ask him) Vincent Gallo's Promises Written In Water and John Turturro's voyage to Italy film, Passione.