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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Some Movie Reviews

Movie Review 10/17

Michael Clayton

***

Like one of its characters, this is a film with a serious personality disorder. It’s not that the film can’t decide what it wants to be. It just wants to be too many things at once, which makes for some awkward segues and pacing. At first the film seems to be an expose’ of inner office dealings at a high level law firm. Then we are thrown into a procedural whodunit similar to A Civil Action. Next, the major subplot of the film, wants to be Network for the new millennium only satirizing litigations, with a crazy prophet and all, only the Faye Dunaway-esque character gets involved in a Fargo-esque criminal scheme gone wrong. Come to think of it, it’s more like half a season of The Sopranos condensed into 2 hours, mystical appearances of wildlife included.

First-time director Tony Gilroy, who has written everything from The Cutting Edge, to Armageddon, makes some intriguing choices; we see a character speak, then we are shown them getting prepared physically and emotionally, for example. And the film is nice to look at. What holds it together in the face of changing tones and emphasis’ is a fiery, yet restrained, and consistent performance by George Clooney, who makes and recommends the film. Clooney somehow manages to be incredibly invested in the film and his character, be believable, and supercool, and manage to pull off a very interesting Brechtian ending.

Gone Baby Gone

****

This is a film that is far better than it has any right to be. First of all, is has an unfortunate title that makes me think of the old Violent Femmes song “Gone Daddy Gone.” And most amazingly this is a first film. Directed by Ben Affleck.

Most shocking of all is the kind of film Affleck, Ben, has given us. This is the rarest of American films. An explicit, complex moral exploration that implicitly is a deft attempt at Transcendental Naturalism. Yes, Ben Affleck has given us one of the most important religious films of the last few years.

The source material is a book by the same author as Mystic River. And so any review of this film can’t really escape Eastwood’s adaptation of that book. However, Affleck’s approach is more similar to Abel Ferrara than Eastwood. While they both often paint with broad strokes, Eastwood is more restrained and meditative. Affleck is more assaultive, in language and violence. However, Affleck is a native informant. This is his town, and while he may be reckless in giving us a depiction of its darker side, he cares deeply for the people who inhabit the neighborhood and the film, to the point that most of the people we see are real products of their environment. We see the ugly, the grotesque. Faces battered by the hard knocks of surviving in the streets of S. Boston.

And this is a film about survival. The film openly refers to Matthew 10, but this is a sermon on Matthew 18. If we are to be as little children, how are we supposed to survive in world of such exploitation, corruption and violence? A world where those little children cannot survive? The film has some near-preposterous twists at points, however, Affleck does not use any gimmicks. The twists come as sickening realizations and slow burns. The ambiguity and moral dilemma we are left with at the end, is remarkable.

Ben Affleck is immensely promising as a director(yes, I just said that). And his brother, Casey, who so far is best known for his minor parts in the Oceans series, may be the better actor. He gives a complex, hardnosed performance as a P.I. and ex-coke addict, who is friends with drug dealers, pimps, and alcoholics, who gets too involved, and then must confront his own morality and spirituality when everything goes wrong.

The film is not put together as expertly as it could have been, and at times, specifically in audio flashbacks, the film is too self-indulgent. As I said earlier, like Abel Ferrara (another native informant) or even early Scorsese, some of its methods may come across like blunt instruments. But it has inspired impulses, and a beautifully troubling theme, both rarities in contemporary American cinema.

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