Review: ‘De Palma’

Hot Docs 2016

3 mins read

De Palma
(USA, 107 min.)
Dir. Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)


It’s perhaps churlish to complain that the documentary De Palma comes across as exactly what its constituent parts would lead you to expect. We get a genial, at times insightful, conversation with the director as he speaks to a couple of his fans, with his quips and recollections interspersed by clips from various films. It’s not a film that’s likely to set the world on fire, nor is it meant to. This is a survey course of sorts, a sympathetic promenade through decades of De Palma’s work. For fans it may be a thrilling thing and for those slightly more ambivalent, it’s at least a charming look at his slate. Those unconvinced that De Palma is anything more than a modern copycat of Hitchcock’s style aren’t likely to be swayed.

Still, for the neutral viewer there’s lots to admire, including clips from the director’s earliest works, which show a preposterously young, chubby-cheeked De Niro already magnetic on screen in increasingly important roles. As we traipse through the Seventies and its Easy Rider/Raging Bull [Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola] generation of cineastes, we’re treated to De Palma’s more celebrated films, from the cult classic Phantom of the Paradise (a hit in Canada!) through Carrie, Blow Out and on to The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible.

De Palma is more than willing to talk about his missteps, but sometimes his droll delivery may mask this self-awareness. (He certainly underplays the connection between his audio-thriller Blow Out and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to what feels like inadvertent comedic affect). In the end the film offers the viewer a leisurely afternoon spent with an affable filmmaker, listening to the man reminisce about his long career. The film may live as little more than a supplement on a future box set, but Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow do well enough to give a sense of the breadth De Palma’s career while letting the iconoclastic director write his history in his own way.

De Palma screens:
-Monday, May 2 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 6:15 PM
-Tuesday, May 3 at the Isabel Bader at 10:00 AM
-Friday, May 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 9:30 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Update: De Palma opens in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox on June 17.
Film buffs may also enjoy their own survey course in De Palma with the Lightbox’s series Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian De Palma, which starts June 18.



Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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