November 2007


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Rob Davis has posted another podcast that he and I recorded. It’s about the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien and his 2006 film, Three Times. Rob and I have similar taste in movies, but we disagreed about this one. So tune in as Rob tries to convince me of the movie’s merits. Even if foreign film isn’t your style, I hope you enjoy the scintillating back-and-forth. And if Rob isn’t too bogged down with parenthood, he’ll soon be posting our discussion of the new Coen brothers and Wes Anderson movies.

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Trying to catch up with some blogging about all the great movies that have come out this fall…

I’m genuinely surprised and a bit dismayed at how few people have gone to see Michael Clayton. I don’t usually care about box office figures, but what does it mean that a movie with an intelligent story, tremendous acting, and genuine star power can’t find an audience? Are we stuck forever with digitally rendered 3-D versions of Angelina Jolie’s breasts? Don’t get me wrong–that might be pleasant for a movie or two, but where’s the substance?

Here’s what Michael Clayton has going for it. George Clooney, for starters. As the title character, he embodies both suave sophistication and beaten-down weariness as a “fixer” for a large law firm. His current assignment is to keep tabs on Arthur Edens, an old friend and the lead lawyer for the defense in an enormous class-action suit (played by the always magnificent Tom Wilkinson). That’s easier said than done as the Arthur has gone off his medication and run naked during a deposition. When Michael tries to corral him, Arthur threatens to expose the company’s dirty, not-so-little secrets. Michael has troubles of his own, though, as he’s struggling with an enormous gambling debt and the sense that he’s just going through the motions in his job. What he doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a lot worse.

fcmc-0021-resized.jpgThe story, written by director Tony Gilroy, is tight and sleek, just like a conspiracy thriller should be. We have some bad guys, and we have some other guys who don’t think they’re bad but are. Tilda Swinton is one of the latter (though she’s saddled with an unfortunately pre-feminist character), and she’s part of a strong supporting cast that moves the picture along. I was particularly pleased to see Sydney Pollack in a juicy role, and Tom Wilkinson reminds us of why he’s one of the best actors working today.

Gilroy also knows how to cut from scene to scene, ratcheting up the tension and keeping us in suspense. But this isn’t one of those movies that’s too smart for its own good. Only a misstep with some horses slows the film down. And Clooney is fantastic, delivering enough depth to almost make you forget you’re watching a huge movie star but exhibiting enough charisma to remind you of how much fun it is to go to the movies. Let the teenagers run off to see Beowulf (in 3-D!!). Michael Clayton is for the rest of us. Don’t miss it.

Michael Clayton: four stars, out of five