Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Fixer, Gangster and Survivor

Michael Clayton (2007, Director Tony Gilroy): Rating 8/10

Crisp white envelops filled with money -- a reward for a job well done. Even though Michael Clayton (George Clooney) only gives such an envelope once in the movie, one can expect him to have distributed many such gifts in the past. Unofficially, he is the law firm's fixer -- he patches things up or does whatever is required for the good of the firm. He works off the radar and on the company record books, his job is insignificant. Only the firm's senior partners recognize his value and in case the senior partners disappeared one day, Clayton would be the first to be fired.

At the core, the story is about a whistle blower, in the mould of Michael Mann's The Insider. The evil company in this case is U North, a company that appears to follow in the foot steps of Monsanto and other biotech agricultural companies shown in documentaries such as The Corporation, The Fight for True Farming and The Future of Food. The film is polished and features smart witty dialogues that one expects from Hollywood films where the lead actor appears slick and well dressed in all scenes, no matter what the situation. But to Gilroy's credit, he does add some hesitation to Tilda Swinton's character. Tilda plays Karen Crowder who works for U North and her character's actions are true to what is portrayed at the film's start -- she is nervous, insecure and tries too hard to impress. So it is easy to believe that she is capable of making the mistakes that are shown as the movie progresses.

There are two interesting sequences in the movie. One is the scene with the horses. It is early in the morning and Clayton is returning irritated from a 'fixer' meeting. The sun has not risen yet when he sees three horses. He gets off from his car and is reaching out to the horses, almost helplessly. That scene is the only one where you can detect weakness in his character -- he is struggling and wants help himself. In all the other scenes, he is confident and is the person that others come to for help. The other interesting sequence is the final shot in the cab. The camera stays focused on Clooney's face as the closing credits roll. Just a nice sequence at odds with other Hollywood movies which feature too many quick cuts.

Note: A minor point about one sequence which appears to be weak. Clayton sees Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) in the alley-way and pulls the car over. He leaves his son in the car and asks him to lock the doors. Clayton approaches Arthur. When Arthur is talking, the camera only focuses on him and his bag of dozen (or more) baguettes But when the camera shows Clayton, you can see his car in the background. My initial thought was that Gilroy wanted us to see the car because there could be something regarding his son. After gradual cuts, the camera narrows the focus in Clayton's background but we can still his car and even taxi cabs going by. Eventually, the camera does only focuses on Clayton. I am still not sure if there was a purpose to keep the car in the background and let it be a distraction or if that was a lazy sequence where the camera was not directed to only show the relevant characters.

American Gangster (2007, Director Ridley Scott): Rating 8/10

"If we stop bringing drugs into the country, then we will put 100,000 people out of a job."

That is probably one of the most accurate lines about the police's battle with drug trafficking. Ofcourse, it is not surprizing to hear such a line from a detective like Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) because Ritchie is shown to be one of the few honest cops in the film. In a way, Ritchie's comment makes sense as countless officers are hired to keep arresting drug pushers and top mobs. However, there is no attempt to eliminate the problem at roots. So the end result is an endless cycle of the same mistakes.

"This is my home. My country. Frank Lucas don't run from nobody. This is America."

In the end, that is the problem with all top gangsters. They will never run away but stay around until they get taken down. As a result, all such gangster movies follow the same pattern -- small gangster rises to become top boss, police get on his trail and eventually he is either jailed or killed.

One interesting aspect shown in the movie is how Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) strove to keep a low profile. But a few signs of flashy money initiated by his fiancee and brothers lead to him appearing on the police's radar.

"My man." "The Po-lice".

That is Denzel delivering dialogues like he did in Training Day. "The Po-lice".

Overall, American Gangster is a good film but like Michael Clayton, it still feels like a typical studio movie. After countless mob movies, there is not much more that can be explored in a gangster story.

Rescue Dawn (2006, Director Werner Herzog) Rating 8.5/10

Herzog has directed an absorbing film about Dieter Dengler's (played by Christian Bale) escape from a prison camp in Laos/North Vietnam after his American fighter plane was shot down. Herzog has paid careful attention to little details regarding how Dengler escaped the camp and survived in the dense jungles. There is one scene which reminded me of Herzog's 1972 feature Aguirre, Wrath of God. After Dieter and Duane (Steve Zahn) escape the camp, they float down the river on a raft. Even though the raft scene in Rescue Dawn is shot differently from the final raft scene in Aguirre, both scenes contained the same tension that an enemy could attack from any point in the forests.

I have not seen Herzog's documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly which accounts the same story. In interviews, Herzog mentioned that Dieter's story was so extraordinary that it had to be made into a film. But due to lack of finances he made the documentary first.

1 comment:

Kempton said...

Love both Michael Clayton and Rescue Dawn.

Speaking about Herzog, have you seen this wonderful Q&A between Morris and Herzog ? Great chat.