Saturday, October 13, 2007

Michael Clayton

AMC theaters does this thing on the weekends where if you attend an AM showing the price severely reduced. I took advantage of this to see "Michael Clayton."
Writer-Director Tony Gilroy (most notable for his work on the recent Bourne series) calls the shots in this film. While the film has a cat-and-mouse, cloak and dagger feeling (again reminiscent of Bourne) the setting here is corporate law.
Michael Clayton (Clooney) calls himself the janitor: when something goes awry, he is the man to clean it up. And there is major cleaning to be done.
UNorth is a company that deals in agriculture. Of course, in a movie like this there is always a bad seed and UNorth is it. As is typical with these cloak and dagger films of late, big corporate has done something inhumane and is involved in a lawsuit trying to cover it up. Arthur, (Wilkinson) one of Clayton's colleagues at the firm is assigned defense. However, Arthur has a problem - chemical imbalance and he hasn't been taking his medication. Even though Arthur is working for UNorth, his conscience has gotten the better of him. He has found evidence - damning evidence - against UNorth. AND he is somewhat involved with the plaintiff, Ana. In a videotaped deposition Arthur is seen taking his clothes off. This doesn't look good - not clean anyway. Enter Clayton.
Clooney just seems to make excellent choices these days. I guess it makes sense. He has cut his teeth on films that he knew he had to make to get where he is. Instead of a dry Batman, Clooney feels right at home with his recent work. He seems like he knows what he wants and is extremely confident. Basically masterminding the entire Ocean's franchise and putting together a flawless film in Good Night and Good Luck.
Michael Clayton is a film that owes something to Bourne. The tension in the film builds. I enjoyed the opening of the film - a voice over provided by Arthur to Michael. It's eerie. At this point, we have no idea who this person is and what his role is to play. While we zoom through a big corporate office we think we are going to arrive at the source of the voice-over and we never do. How significant is the voice-over to the overall plot - I do not know. I do know that the use of it is a brilliant way to vault circumstances into a higher pitch.
In a Scorsese-esque move, Gilroy begins the movie at the end. Think Goodfellas and Casino. The first shots of those films begins not at the beginning but somewhere in the middle. I think this emphasizes the story over the destination (I am borrowing some from Roger Ebert here). Because we know what will eventually happen, the destination is not important. We aren't sitting in the theater trying to guess what will happen next. Instead. Gilroy forces us to consider the actions in front of us. Get absorbed in the story, and let the chips fall where you already know they will.
A little bit on style here. I like color. I am fascinated as to how it can be used. While I may not know what it's intention is all the time, I gravitate toward it. In the beginning we are practically colorless - mostly cold hues of black, blue, grey and white. There are certain moments where the only color available in a shot come from one place - a picture, a window, a painting. However, as the film progressed, more color seemed to fill the screen. We enter people's apartments, and while dank, warmer colors fight to enter. Indeed, in the final scene of the film, two characters stand in a sun drenched lobby of a ballroom - indicating perhaps that all the pieces are out on the table. Now it's our turn to clean up the mess and restore order to the puzzle.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

American Gangster

Generally, as a rule of thumb, typically, if I ever see a movie trailer and Denzel Washington is involved, I get excited - really excited. Similarly, when I receive word about a new Ridley Scott movie, I get excited. I have liked just about anything the man has done recently. Whether it is "Gladiator" which in hindsight is much better film than originally thought. Don't believe me, check out Roger Ebert, he agrees. Don't argue with a man that has a Pulitzer Prize. "Black Hawk Down" was inspired and fearless film making. It's a film that requires a disciplined viewing lest it overwhelm the viewer. And, I thought "Kingdom of Heaven" to be good work, yet it was panned not only in print but at the box office as well. These two men are enough to make anyone spend the money at the ticket booth.
Enter Russel Crowe - a man with his share of mixed opinions. But take a look at this body of work: "L.A. Confidential," "A Beautiful Mind," "Gladiator," "The Insider," "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." Granted, there are some things on his resume that one needn't write home about, but every working person in this world has things on their resume they wish they could improve, so that's a wash.
I come to you with a confession. I have been denying Russell Crowe a place in my "good actor" pile. I have liked 99% of the films I have seen him in and for some reason had difficulty placing him in that pantheon. Russell, I have placed the welcome mat just for you. Now, whenever a movie comes out and you are in a starring role, I will take note.
Note to News Corp, Disney, AOL/Time Warner, General Electric (especially you!), SONY/BMG, Liberty Media, Vivendi/Universal, Viacom, and AT&T (the big ten media corporations): if you put Russell Crowe in a film, you can 100% count on at least $10 at the box office.