Sunday, 24 August 2008

Sunday Night at the Movies - with Dallas and friends

After a week of roaming aimlessly in a camper-van through Australia's bewitching "red centre", I am back with this week's movie review and top ten list. The hiatus was good, and the escape from Sydney's hustle and bustle was quite refreshing. But, it's now back to work and school and responsibility. As such, I haven't had a chance to venture to a cinema to sample the latest cinematic delights. The film reviewed tonight is Michael Clayton which is available to rent on DVD, and "the list" is Top Ten Hollywood Musicals. I hope you all enjoy, and have a great week!
- Dallas

Top Ten Hollywood Musicals
1. Singin' in the Rain
2. Top Hat
3. Mary Poppins
4. The Sound of Music
5. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
6. An American in Paris
7. Cabaret
8. The Court Jester
9. Fiddler on the Roof
10. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann)

"And The Truth Shall Set You Free"
- by Dallas

Michael Clayton, written and directed by Tony Gilroy and starring George Clooney as the titular character, tells the story of Michael Clayton, the in-house "fixer" working at the powerful New York law firm of Kenner, Bach and Ledeen. Clayton is shown in several scenes deftly using his skills of persuasion and negotiation with his myriad contacts to try and "fix" the various problems of some of his firm's high priority clients. He is able to arrange access to an "Authorized Personnel Only" crime scene as easily as scoring court-side tickets to the biggest game of the year. But, Clayton's most difficult challenge will come in the form of Arthur Edens, a senior attorney with Kenner, Bach and Ledeen who stops taking his medication and begins to sabotage his own work on the $3 billion lawsuit he's been working on for six years for the major agro-chemicals conglomerate U-North. What follows is a tautly constructed thriller that examines truth in the face of perspective, as the characters in this film each struggle with adhering to their own shifting moralities.

At the center of this exquisite gem of a film, is George Clooney's portrayal of Michael Clayton. Clooney plays Clayton as a man perpetually on the fringes of losing control of his life and his family. He appears the cool and collective fixer to his colleagues, but his gambling debts and penchant for alcohol have left him in search of a moral core. In the past he has used his work as a way to fill this void, but in his efforts to "contain" Arthur Edens he loses his moral grounding completely and is confronted with the question of "What is the right thing to do?"

Clayton's outward calm and inner turmoil is offset by Karen Crowder, a litigator under the employ of U-North who finds herself more and more discomfited by the actions of Arthur Edens. Played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton (she won the 2007 Best Supporting Actress Oscar), Crowder slowly loses control of everything around her, with devastating results, and the audience literally watches her implode on screen. Tom Wilkinson, also brilliant, plays Arthur Edens, the man responsible for the crises of so many individuals.

Michael Clayton begins like a good John Grisham "legal thriller", but as the film progresses little touches of greatness are manifest. One such moment comes in the murder of one of the characters. It is not a loud, gory, or bloody display of violence. It is quick, easy, silent; and it is one of the most disquieting and terrifying acts of violence I've ever seen on screen.

In a world of shifting values, where we sometimes find ourselves being swept away by forces out of our control, there will come a day when most, if not all of us will be forced to stand for something. When that day comes, will we be strong enough to do what's right? When that day comes, will we know what's right? Will there be a right and a wrong, or just choices and consequences? Similar questions were also posed by the excellent film Gone Baby Gone. Both films display the ugly consequences of our choices, both "right" and "wrong". My only criticism of Michael Clayton would be in its conclusion. I will not spoil the film by divulging it here, but it is enough to say that although I found the conclusion immensely satisfying, at the same time it felt hollow and a bit false. I mention Gone Baby Bone because one of the great triumphs of that film was in its honest and shattering conclusion.

My reservations about the conclusion aside, Michael Clayton is a superb film and I recommend it highly to anyone in the mood for a great film.

**** Stars

4 comments:

Melanie said...

I agree, the ending left me a little bit frustrated, but it's a great movie.

As for your musicals list. . . are those in any sort of order? I have to admit, to my great shame, that I haven't seen a couple of those, but you have definitely picked some of my favorites. Sound of Music is probably at the top of my list. I watched Singin' In the Rain again recently and I was surprised how LONG it is. Without the weird dream sequence, though, it's an AMAZING movie.

dallas said...

lanie,
actually, they are in a particular order. i feel rather strongly about "singin' in the rain" as an overall delightful film and the peak of the hollywood musical. it has great music, excellent dance sequences, and fun story. but, i must also agree that the dream sequence detracts a bit from the overall film. but, it's not as 'yawn inducing' as the ballet sequence from "an american in paris".

but in all honesty, i'd trust your taste in great musicals over mine, as you've certainly seen a lot more, and probably appreciate them more than i do.
-dallas

booktapes said...

Michael Clayton was the one movie from last year's Oscar race that I didn't see. Partly because I thought it was about a fight to the death between Batman and the White Witch from Narnia. But from your plot summary that seems to not be the case.

I would rank An American in Paris well above Singing in the Rain, but Mary Poppins above both. I just watched Sweeney Todd again and liked it even more the second time. The dream sequence in Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye describes how Lazar Wolf's dead wife would come back to haunt them, is my favorite scene of the film.

dallas said...

natey,
yeah, you should check out michael clayton. it's definitely worth a look.

i had a rather hard time compiling this movie list. when it comes to musicals i am fiercely loyal to a select few, especially when it comes to dance sequences. my personal favorite is fred astaire, which is why "top hat" is number two on the list, but overall, i just think "singin' in the rain" is a better overall musical.

the problem for me with "an american in paris" is that pesky ballet scene. i'm sure i just don't appreciate it, but it bores me to tears. oh, and leslie caron's teeth frighten me. but, when i think about "an american in paris" i strain to remember any songs or standout moments. "singin' in the rain" is chock full of such moments, so it was an easy choice. "an american in paris" is certainly a gorgeous film, but i just don't like it as much.

i absolutely love "fiddler on the roof", but the second half is a bit anti-climactic and it therefore loses a bit of momentum. that's why it isn't higher on the list. but, it certainly has some extraordinary scenes.

i haven't seen "sweeney todd" yet, but would really like to. i've seen it on stage a few time so i'm interested in seeing what tim burton has done with it.

alright, i think i've rambled on enough.
-dallas