Film & TV

Movie Review Winners and Losers: ‘Footnote’ Surprises, ‘A Thousand Words’ Doesn’t

Film & TV

Movie Review Winners and Losers: ‘Footnote’ Surprises, ‘A Thousand Words’ Doesn’t

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Winner: Footnote

Coming off an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the Israeli Footnote places two Talmudic scholars, who happen to be father and son, at odds with each other when the elder mistakenly receives an award intended for the younger. Entertainment Weekly awarded the film an A, calling it “exquisitely assembled” and “a perfect little piece of Talmud, full of text, commentary, and colorful argument.” Variety pointed out the film’s main weakness, namely that “academic researchers rarely make for dynamic screen material,” while the Wall Street Journal made the case that it serves as an “exceptionally rich character study.”

The Village Voice praised the technical ingenuity and creativity of director and writer Joseph Cedar, but also found the film “emotionally distant,” adding, “Footnote is something to respect and admire but remains cold and unknowable.” Time Out New York also singled out Cedar’s script for praise, calling it “idiosyncratically brilliant,” and noted the “moral question at its heart: Is lying to spare someone’s feelings ever justified?” And Movieline argued that Footnote‘s success is all the more impressive considering the odds it was up against, commenting that “Cedar approaches his subject with so much wit and verve that he almost—almost—makes you forget you’re watching a movie about a very small, cloistered subset of academic obsessives whose life’s work is about as visually undynamic as you can imagine.”

Loser: A Thousand Words

It should come as no surprise that this week’s worst-reviewed film stars Eddie Murphy, even if he limits himself to only one character this time around. Murphy’s performance was actually, for many critics, the highlight of A Thousand Words, with Variety calling his turn as a slick literary agent whose every spoken word causes a leaf to fall off a magical tree in his backyard (and brings him slightly closer to death) “physically adroit” and “typically agile,” while labeling the film overall a “tortured exercise in high-concept spiritual hokum.” USA Today, on the other hand, wrote, “Murphy alternately hams it up and phones it in,” also noting, “the concept is unoriginal, the scenarios aren’t funny, and its message is banal.”

Surprisingly, the intellectual bastion of the New York Times gave A Thousand Words it’s kindest (or perhaps least cruel) review, having nothing worse to say than “inoffensive, unsurprising and uninspiring.” Roger Ebert pointedly noted of the flimsy premise, “I think what I’d try is writing notes.” The Daily News criticized the film for hypocrisy: “If only this Eddie Murphy flick had taken its own advice and spent a little more time being reflective instead of hyperactive, it might have overcome a trite script and awful, obvious excuses for comedy.”

And Rene Rodriguez held nothing back in the Miami Herald‘s review (worth a full gleeful read), which said that compared to A Thousand Words, director Brian Robbins’ previous Murphy outings Norbit and Meet Dave “suddenly…feel like career highpoints.” Rodriguez also called the film a “crass, soulless cash-grab,” a “colossally misguided vanity project,” and racist and homophobic to boot, and found time to take it to producer Nicolas Cage as well: “Even Cage eventually passed, and he’s the guy who made Ghost Rider and The Wicker Man.”