Monday, October 15, 2007
It's official - George Clooney is to this decade (sorry - I hate calling it the Aughts or Aughties) what Robert Redford was to the 70's. He's the gruff but good looking beacon that guides us through the dark corridors of misappropriated power and serves as the conscience of poli-sci centered cinema. In a run of ambitious films (excluding the OCEAN'S series, that is) like SYRIANA, THE GOOD GERMAN, and GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, Clooney is coming close to matching Redford's run in the Nixon-Ford-Carter era - a run that included such classics as THE CANDIDATE, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and BRUBAKER.
MICHAEL CLAYTON cements the case that Clooney has definitively assumed Redford's role as symbol of liberal unrest and righteous though mostly impotent outrage against the machine. So here's the Film Babble review :
MICHAEL CLAYTON (Dir. Tony Gilroy, 2007)
As the title character Clooney brings a doomed demeanor to a once prominent NY lawyer who now acts as a "fixer" that is a hatchet or bag man to do his large firm's dirty work. Called a "miracle man" by some but self described as a "janitor", Clayton can't quite clean up the mess made by a fellow tormented litigator - Arthur Edens played to intense perfection by Tom Wilkinson. Edens threatens to sabotage his firm's handling of a multimillion dollar lawsuit against a agrichemical company. Clayton struggles to protect Edens and grapples with overwhelming ethical dilemmas while juggling his own personal set-backs - financial insecurity brought on by divorce and a former gambling problem recently replaced by a risky restaurant venture.
Some of the narrative turns can be seen coming at a fair distance and there are some drawbacks with a few undeveloped characters - specifically Chief Counsel for the bad guys Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) and also the unnecessary druggie brother heavily implies there was some cut material. Sydney Pollack (one of the film's producers) as Clooney's boss does add some clout though it's a character he's played slight variations on before (see below). Tony Gilroy's direction, decorated by hushed grey tones and a overcast aura, is impressive for a first time director (Gilroy scripted the BOURNE series). There's a lot to admire in this anti-slick suspense flick. So as long as Clooney doesn't pull a ELECTRIC HORSEMAN on us - we're heading in a good direction.
After seeing MICHAEL CLAYTON I realized something - I like Sydney Pollack as an actor more than I do as a director. Sure, he mostly plays incidental side parts - giving a folksy gravitas to the proceedings in a the Yoda you may worry 'bout trusting sorta way. Also he re-inforces this blogpost's conceit because of his collaborations with Robert Redford, so continuing my blog's HIGH FIDELITY obsession with lists here goes :
5 Pivotal Sydney Pollack Parts :
1. TOOTSIE (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1982) It's hard to imagine what TOOTSIE would've been had Hal Ashby (who was originally signed on but after what Wikipedia calls "two years of laborious negotiations" - was axed from the project) directed it. I mean there would have been no hilarious arguments between Pollack and Dustin Hoffman both on and off screen! Pollack signed on to direct but resisted Hoffman's idea that he play the blunt agent character in the film. He finally gave in and it's a great thing too because his part really makes the movie. Priceless moment - Hoffman in drag runs in to an oblivious Pollack, who had told Hoffman's Michael Dorsey character that "no one will hire you" earlier, at the Russian Tea Room. After fooling Pollack with his Dorothy Michaels persona for a few minutes, Hoffman drops his voice low and reveals himself. Pollack : "Michael, I told you to get some therapy!"
2. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (Dir. Woody Allen, 1992) Pollack's biggest role to date and one he excels in though at first glance it's a stock best friend who's having an affair part - a role usually reserved in Woody Allen movies for the likes of Tony Roberts or Michael Murphy. Pollack plays a man constantly on the verge of crumbling during his separation from wife Judy Davis but somehow holding it together. A misguided affair with a ditsy aerobics trainer (Lysette Anthony - pictured on the right) gives some funny yet dark insights into his nature. We're left liking the guy in the end though we don't know why - perhaps because he's just a flawed fucked-up human like the rest of us.
3. EYES WIDE SHUT (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1999) Another best friend/mentor/would be Yoda role in this troubled and troubling movie. I won't go into the details about this notoriously comprised Kubrick project - that's well documented elsewhere - I'll just say that Pollack pulls no punches in his portrayal of Victor Ziegler. Woody Allen was originally considered for the role of Ziegler but he claims that Kubrick "came to his senses".
4. CHANGING LANES (Dir. Roger Mitchell, 2002) put this one in the "guys the main character shouldn't trust" file. A fairly lame Ben Affleck / Samuel L. Jackson dueling NY commuters thriller (as if that's an actual genre) features a rare Sydney Pollack as complete bastard role as yet another corrupt lawfirm boss (see above). Especially, in a moment that will come back to haunt him, when he tells Affleck - "at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm... what other standard have I got to judge by?" At the end of the day this guy is judged pretty harshly.
5. RANDOM HEARTS (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1999) Another flawed as fuck film (only 18% on the Rotten Tomatometer - pretty much consensus says it's a stinker) that nonetheless gives good Pollack. Sure it's another advisor/mentor character but when it boils down to it - he's one of the only interesting elements in this failure of his own making. If Pollack can shine when Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas appear drab and unconvincing then maybe the guy really is a genius director! Nah, I'm just blogging out of my ass again.
Okay! Another post - another list. Next time out : the countdown to my first blog convention - Converge South 2007 - continues and more babble 'bout movies of course.