FRACTURE

By Marc S. Sanders

When director Gregory Hoblit was shooting this film, did he ever wonder how preposterous this courtroom mystery is?  

This ridiculous effort featuring a tired Anthony Hopkins as a suspect representing himself, and a very green Ryan Gosling as the prosecuting attorney proudly boasts a centerpiece storyline of simply finding a gun used in an attempted murder.  That’s it really.  No nuances.  No subtle riddles.  Just a “what happened to the gun?” plot line.  

It’s any wonder that I had never heard of this movie until I found it on Netflix.

Take my advice.  Find something else on Netflix.

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, THE BOURNE LEGACY, JASON BOURNE

By Marc S. Sanders

Sometimes the same old thing is all we want, right?  It’s like comfort food.  That’s what the Jason Bourne films offer.  The first time (The Bourne Identity) it is original.  The second time (The Bourne Supremacy) it is familiar.  The third time (The Bourne Ultimatum) it is what we expect.  When you get to the fourth and fifth time (The Bourne Legacy and Jason Bourne), well then perhaps you’ve overstayed your welcome.

The second and third films in the Matt Damon action series function as one long four-hour film.  They are absolutely gripping in high octane, fast cut editing, pulse pounding music from James Newton Howard, and taut direction from Paul Greengrass.  They work because at least two thirds of the material is shown through the eyes of the former assassin Jason Bourne who is trying to learn of his past and who he worked for and why.  Plus, though he may hide deep undercover on the other side of the world in places like populated India, he only resurfaces when he discovers someone is trying to kill him.

The other third of these two pictures function on the other side of the coin with clandestine departments within the CIA who only consider Bourne being alive as a threat to the integrity of their black operations.  He must be eliminated.  There are great acting scenes with Joan Allen first up against an intimidating Brian Cox, and later she’s going toe to toe with David Strathairn.  If you are not part of the chase for Bourne, then you are engrossed in the cause these three supporting players offer with government politics and debate.  With each passing film, it’s an old, grey haired white gentleman in a suit who is insistent on eliminating Bourne and anyone who he associates with.  This started with Chris Cooper in the first film followed by Brian Cox (my favorite) over to David Strathairn.  The baton is then passed to Albert Finney.  A new film moves over to Edward Norton and then Tommy Lee Jones.  Scott Glenn and Stacy Keach are in the recipe too, but they are not as prominent.  All these guys start to look alike and when you watch the films in succession, one after the other, like I recently did, you start to question when this actor and this actor entered the fold.  Best way to describe it is that it is a ladder climb.  There was one guy in charge, then another above him and so on.

The appreciation for the Bourne series comes mostly from its action and the absolute cleverness of its hero.  Jason Bourne functions with ease about staying one step ahead of those trying to kill him.  They think they have a lead on him, but in reality, he has the lead on them.  Do you know how satisfying it is when he calls these people to talk to them and they play dumb? Jason will simply say “If you were in your office right now, then we would be having this conversation face to face.”  Moments like this are what gets an audience to clap and cheer.  The old white guy has been duped.

The action works because, once again I lay claim to the lack of CGI.  So, the overabundance of car chases seems nerve wracking like they are supposed to.  That door on that car is actually getting bashed in.  That taxi cab is really getting t-boned and turning into a 360 tailspin.  Jason can grab a seatbelt, lie down on his side and when the car careens over the barrier onto the landing fifty below, upside down, I’ll believe he gets out with only just a slight limp and a dribble of blood on his brow.  Only Jason Bourne can drag a wrecked rear bumper on a stolen police car through a busy Times Square and bash an SUV into a concrete barrier.

Fight scenes are not just fight scenes in the Bourne films.  It’s not just fists and punches and karate kicks.  Creatively speaking, the films construct their fight scenes to have the hero arm himself with a ball point pen or a magazine that’s wrapped up ready to wallop an opponent in the nose.  I’ll never forget when my colleague Miguel and I saw Ultimatum in the theatres and witnessed Jason punching a book into the face of a dangerous bad guy.  How many times have you seen a guy get punched in the face?  How many times have a seen a guy punch a book into the face of another guy?  There’s a difference. 

Matt Damon has been quoted as saying he believes the Bourne films carried the least amount of dialogue for him to memorize.  Yeah.  That’s likely true.  These films are visual feasts.  They rely on watching Damon move.  They are paced by how he walks, drives a car or tinkers with props.  Even how he listens and observes move with a kinetic progress. 

The locales are spectacular, spanning the globe from India, to Russia, to London, to Morocco, to the Philippines, and on to New York City and Las Vegas.  Following the first film, Paul Greengrass directed three of the next four.  (Writer Tony Gilroy directed the fourth film, The Bourne Legacy with Jeremy Renner taking the lead while Damon’s character was only talked about.) Each film takes every advantage of the atmosphere, using the overpopulated extras as obstacles and means to hide and weave away from the antogonists while on foot, behind a steering wheel or saddled upon a motorcycle.  Greengrass practically invents the concept of putting the viewer so much within the environment, you can almost smell the diesel or the food trucks within the area.  Zoom in overhead shots offer quick glances of the playground and traffic we are engrossed in.  Approximately twenty-five minutes within the center of The Bourne Ultimatum go by with no dialogue as Jason Bourne pursues a bad guy through a labyrinth of apartment tenements and rooftops, while the bad guy pursues actor Julia Stiles.  Finally, when all three catch up to one another, with a leap through a window, do you let out the deep breath you never realized you were holding on to. 

The first three films in the series (Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum) work as a tight trilogy.  Each film ends with hanging threads to consider and lend to the next film.  By the time Ultimatum concludes, you feel as if all that needed to be told has been covered.  The next two (Legacy and Jason Bourne) function as cash grabs for the studio.  Legacy is entertaining and it boasts a good cast with Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz trying to outrun the government adversaries.  It hinges on operating as parallel material that occurs in the prior Damon installment.  While Jason Bourne is being pursued, this is happening over here.  It’s not unwatchable, but it is also truly unnecessary as it doesn’t advance the universe of the series at all.  A thrilling motorcycle chase closes out the film, but it’s a retread of what we’ve seen before.  It gets old quickly.  The film demonstrates that guys like Jason are trained to become dependent on drug enhancements for their highly trained arts of warfare and instinct.  Renner’s character is just another kind of Jason Bourne.  I was more impressed when I thought Jason was just a highly skilled fast learner to all that he’s capable of.  If you tell me blue and green pills lend to what he’s capable of, well then, he’s not much of a superhero in my eyes anymore.

With the final film, Jason Bourne, Greengrass returned to the director’s chair and Damon agreed to come back (paycheck had to be right, I’m sure), though he was significantly greyer and older than his prior films.  It was a weak return.  Just when we think Bourne has learned everything he needed to know and he could now live comfortably underground as a street brawler for bucks, he is informed that his deceased father knew and did some things for these secret agencies that put Jason on this path of special operations.  It doesn’t hold much weight and the payoff is nothing special.  Another car chase occurs in Vegas that appears nearly shot for shot similar to what we already saw in Damon’s prior installments. 

I wrote in an earlier review of The Bourne Identity, that Matt Damon works so well in the role because he’s such an unexpected surprise.  He’s not the muscle guy like Stallone or Schwarzenegger.  He comes off common.  In the first three films, he’s simply a kid.  When you place him in action or see how he gets the drop on a bad guy who is surveilling him, it is so satisfying.  The Bourne films work best with the locales they choose to shoot from.  Bourne will spy on his pursuers from a rooftop building across the street from where they are.  This is inventive filmmaking not just found in the pages of the script.  Paul Greengrass strategically shoots his players.  Director Doug Liman planted the seeds for this series’ potential (The Bourne Identity), very loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novels with creative adaptations from Tony Gilroy, primarily.   Greengrass enhanced the characters and their motivations by use of scenic locales, skillful shaky cameras to make it look like the audience is running at the same pace of Bourne and his adversaries, and quick cut, real time editing.  He applied this approach to his 9/11 film United 93.  The last two films are good even if they seemingly peter out the series, but overall, the four sequels hold up very well. 

If you’re asking, the best of the series is The Bourne Ultimatum, followed very closely by The Bourne Supremacy.  Either way, no matter which film you’re watching, you’re in for a good time when Jason Bourne shows up on the grid.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 69%

PLOT: A year after their father’s funeral, three brothers travel across India by train in an attempt to bond with each other.


In one of the bonus features on the Criterion Blu-ray for Wes Anderson’s charming The Darjeeling Limited, film critic Matt Zoller Seitz compares it to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey because (I’m paraphrasing here) it is the perfect distillation of the director’s method, mood, and style.  I would reserve that distinction for either The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel, myself, but The Darjeeling Limited certainly does capture everything that is typical of a Wes Anderson film: charm, whimsy, troubled souls, a quest of some kind, attention-grabbing camera moves, frequent slo-mo (but not too much), cameos, light and dark material jockeying for position, and a denouement that may signal the end of the film but certainly not the final arc of the main characters.

Meet the Whitman brothers: Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman).  A year ago, their father died, and for the first time since that day, they’re about to meet each other and speak to other on board The Darjeeling Limited, a train that will take them across India on a spiritual journey.  Francis, the eldest, is the eager organizer of this little pilgrimage, providing everyone with laminated daily itineraries that are produced by Brendan, his personal assistant who is also travelling in a separate train car.  Francis will spend much of the film wearing bandages on his head and face that make him look as if he lost a fight with a honey badger.  What caused these injuries is not for me to say.

The ostensible reason for this journey is spiritual awakening and reconnecting with each other.  “I want us to become brothers again like we used to be and for us to find ourselves and bond with each other,” says Francis.  Peter and Jack are skeptical and not exactly psyched for this little trip, each for their own reasons.  Peter has a wife back home, 7-and-a-half months pregnant, who has no idea he’s in India.  Jack, a writer, has broken up with his girlfriend, but he obsessively checks her voicemails remotely because he still has the code to her answering machine.  (Hey, this was made in 2007 when you could still do that.)  He has his own return ticket in case he wants to leave the trip early.  Of course, he’ll find that difficult without his passport, which Francis has confiscated.  “For safety,” he argues.  Yeah, right.

There is an ulterior motive for the trip, having to do with who did and didn’t attend their father’s funeral, but ultimately the ins and outs of the characters, while engaging, kind of take a back seat to the trademark Wes Anderson visual style.  This is not a bad thing.  I am not a fan of Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, because I felt it was all posturing with no meat to the story.  However, with each successive film of his, I become more and more endeared and captivated with his trademarks, especially when he uses it to tell stories that I would never have thought would “mesh” with his style.

For example, near the halfway point of the film, an extremely unexpected crisis occurs.  Because the movie has been happy and bouncy and witty up to now, it comes completely out of left field.  But remarkably, in the middle of this action, Anderson’s camera remains as “Anderson-esque” as ever, still performing quick pans and push-ins and keeping me involved in the story.  This crisis might have felt contrived in another film, a plot device to inject some needed drama into the story.  Not here.  Anderson’s storytelling methods made the event feel as random as anything life might throw at us on any given day: the death of a parent, the birth of a child, a snake getting loose in your train compartment, etcetera.

With one or two obvious exceptions (I think), the entire film was shot in India.  The trusty IMDb trivia page informs me the train scenes themselves were filmed inside a moving train travelling from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer.  The beautiful Indian locations are a major feature of the film.  They visit temples, marketplaces, a monastery, and hilltops overlooking vast Indian vistas.

And all the while, Francis, Jack, and Peter struggle to come to grips with their differences and their brotherhood.  “I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life,” Jack asks at one point.  Great question.  Given what we see in the film, it’s sometimes hard to believe they ever loved each other.  At one point, Francis and Peter get into a wrestling match and Jack has to step in: “I love you, but I’m gonna mace you in the face!”  That’s real love right there.  Right?  I guess…

I’ve heard that if you’re ever not sure what a book or a movie is about, just look at how a character has changed at the end of the story as opposed to what they were like at the beginning.  In The Darjeeling Limited, that’s not so easy to pin down.  I can see that Francis has grown a bit (he eventually relinquishes his brothers’ passports).  But when it comes to Jack and Peter…I’m not sure much has changed with them at all.  Does that make this Francis’s movie through and through?

I’m not sure it matters.  I mean, yes, the story is fun to watch, and I wanted to see where this journey would lead each one of the three brothers.  But for me, the element, or factor, or whatever, that makes The Darjeeling Limited so fun to watch is the directorial style of Wes Anderson.  In this film, as in so many of his films, it’s not about the destination.  It’s about the journey.

[Trivia note: the Criterion Blu-ray also contains a short film called Hotel Chevalier which is intended as a kind of prologue to The Darjeeling Limited.  Don’t make the mistake I did…if you get the Blu-ray, be sure to watch the movie with the prologue.  Don’t wait until after watching the main feature.]

[Super-nerdy trivia note: every musical cue in the film was cribbed from the early films of James Ivory and Satyajit Ray; Wes Anderson wanted to pay tribute to the filmmakers who influenced so much of his style.]

LIONS FOR LAMBS

By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford directed a huge, glossy looking misfire of a political thriller in 2007 with a film called Lions For Lambs, written by Matthew Michael Carnagan.

Preachiness is never fun when it labors on for an hour and a half. I don’t care if it’s Tom Cruise or Meryl Streep or even Robert Redford doing the preaching. If these powerhouse celebrities called me up and asked if they could come to my house for coffee and talk, and when they got there, all they did was spew in circles a political platform of “right and wrong” and “why” and “don’t” and “can’t” and “yes and no,” I’d call the police and have them arrested. Time for you to leave, Meryl! Tom, it’s been real.

In 2007, during the late half of Bush 43’s second term, questions of war with the Middle East was at the forefront during a post 9/11 age. Redford, with Cruise producing, thought it’d be interesting to show three different stories (actually two long winded conversations set around desks, and two stranded soldiers) occurring. A political professor (Redford) tries to open the eyes of a student (Andrew Garfield) with great potential but no drive to make a difference. A Republican Senator (Cruise) sets up his own interview with a liberal leaning reporter (Streep) to boast of a new secret mission he’s championing, and two special forces ops are left stranded (Michael Pena & Derek Luke) in the cold of Iraq, the most interesting of three narratives.

Carnagan’s script goes in circles and it’s likely the politics he questions all lean left. Yet the conversations (Redford & Garfield; Cruise & Streep) become just a lot of back talk. A character makes a point, and the other character makes a counter point. I was hoping for a line like “Meryl, you ignorant slut!” Where are we going with all of this?

The soldiers are the mission planned by the Senator that has now gone awry and follows their outcome as they are left wounded and surrounded by Iraqi forces in the snowy darkness. We learn they were students of the professor who wanted to make a difference by enlisting in the Army. See the connection now; the very thin uninspired connection?

Here’s something for ya. In case, you can’t recognize easily enough, Redford dresses his characters in either shades of Red or Blue. Nice touch with Garfield’s frat boy wearing a RED Hawaiian shirt while Redford has the BLUE denim button down. Cruise gets the shiny RED coffee mug for a prop. Does the film have to be THIS transparent? If so, couldn’t the dialogue have been as well?

Lions For Lambs talks A LOT and tells me nothing. Streep’s reporter is a disappointment. Yet Redford portrays her as noble. She loathes the platform of the Senator she just interviewed and is adamant about not writing the quite revealing story he just laid out for her. How can she be that way? She’s a reporter!!!! Tell the truth. Inform the public, even if it’s not pretty, and yet Redford will have a viewer believe it is righteous of Streep to figuratively break her pencil and unplug her computer while she gripes to her editor in chief. No! This is an absolute betrayal of journalistic integrity. What is Robert Redford, the once producer and star of All The President’s Men, thinking here???

You wanna talk about betrayal? The final moments with Streep really had me puzzled. She takes a thought-provoking cab ride that drives past the Capital, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, and The White House (right, dab, in front of it no less). Reader, I’ve been to Washington DC a number of times as recent as this past summer. Where the hell is this cabbie driving to, and what route was he taking????

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

By Marc S. Sanders

Joel and Ethan Coen have an odd collection of films under their belt. No Country For Old Men, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is no exception. You’re likely to meet the oddest hit man you’ve experienced in a film. (Reader, I’m going under the presumption you’ve never encountered a normal or odd hit man in real life. If you survived long enough to read this passage, you are truly blessed.)

Anton Chigrh follows a discipline that likely no one ever taught him. His code is to continue until he finds what he’s looking for and dispose of any lead in his ongoing quest. His weapon of choice-an air gun hose connected to an oxygen tank. It’s instant in serving its purpose. Its sound is quick and jarring.

Javier Bradem delivers an Oscar winning performance as Chigrh in search of $2 million when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) takes possession of it after coming upon the sight of a drug deal gone bad.

Tommy Lee Jones is perhaps one of the old men in the title. A Texas sheriff not surprised by the carnage he comes upon, but not of much use either. I think he regrets that he can never do more or better and simply can only surmise what’s already been done. I gathered that especially from a scene depicted in a hotel room during the third act of the film. His approach on the scene and his need to sit down translate that for me. His periodic anecdotes during the course of the film seem to say so as well. This sheriff has likely never rescued anyone from harm despite how intuitive he may be.

The Coen Brothers are never shy with blood. A lot of directors are not, really. Yet with the Coens, it seems the bloodshed is disturbingly honest. The instant splatter and flow following another act by Chigrh couldn’t be more truthful. They tell this tale very well, never concerning themselves with how unsettling they can be. Sun filled deserts are not comfortable. Evenings are sleepless. Blood is dark, thick, sticky, messy.

Moss is a hunter who has no idea what he’s up against. Brolin plays him with quiet reservation. He could not resist the urge to take the bag of money, but he also knows he’ll pay for it as well. When he realizes there’s no way to escape, by even crossing the border, he can only try to kill the devil incarnate. He’s likely aware of how this will all play out though.

Among this trio of fine actors (with Woody Harrelson also briefly in the fold), the film is nevertheless celebrated for Bardem. Whenever the story returns to Chigrh, you sit up in your chair a little more alert. He’s got disturbing dialogue exchanges with those he encounters and Bardem’s method makes you wish you never have to decide your fate with a coin toss.

No Country For Old Men is not an action film. The pace takes its time, invested in three men with respective histories who cannot change what their meant for. No incident will change their lifestyles. They are meant to be an assassin, a washed-up lawman, and a poor country hunter. Until they die, no moment in time will alter their caricatures. That’s what I took from the Coens’ Best Picture winner.

I appreciate its honesty.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 91% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A story of family, religion, hatred, oil, and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.


My first draft of this review got up to nearly 1300 words before I realized I was just spinning my wheels.  This is quite simply one of the most original, most daring, most engrossing films of the new millennium that I have ever seen.  And after a while, my first draft became just a list, ticking off and describing scenes that I feel make it great, rather than a precise review.

So instead of giving a full film summary, which you can find elsewhere online, I’m going to try and instead give an actual review.  I’m going to gush a little bit (no pun intended), because it’s a masterpiece, but I’m just going to have to live with that, I guess.

When I first saw this movie (with my good friend Marc Sanders, as it happens, at a free preview), I remember leaving the theater feeling inspired.  Daniel Day-Lewis’s Oscar-winning performance in There Will Be Blood has, to this day, been in the back of my mind every time I’m on stage, whether it’s a drama, comedy, or whatever.  It genuinely makes me want to be a better actor.  Oh, I’ve seen great performances before from the likes of Nicholson, Hoffman, O’Toole, and the rest, but there’s something about the laser-like intensity of Day-Lewis’s performance as Daniel Plainview that had me gawping at the screen in awe as the film played out.  I can’t fully explain it.  It was, and remains, a religious experience to behold.

(For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Daniel Plainview is a turn-of-the-century prospector who thrives in the early days of the oil boom in America, but when his ambition crosses paths with a fire-and-brimstone preacher named Eli Sunday, things get a little testy.)

So, there you go, the acting is not just top-notch, it’s revelatory.

But then there’s the movie itself, exhibiting a level of craftsmanship I haven’t seen since the heyday of Stanley Kubrick.  The plot itself reads like one of those summaries of films that great directors dreamed of making, but were unable to for various reasons, like Kubrick’s unrealized biography of Napoleon.  I mean, who wants to see a 160-minute movie about oil drilling?  Why would anyone care?  Why should anyone care?

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s ingenuity relies heavily on the acting and casting choices, and of course the ingenious screenplay, but any discussion of the film also has to mention the score.  As much as any other element, the film’s musical score creates and sustains a mood of dread and suspense over such banal scenes as pipeline being laid, oil derricks being built, men surveying land, etcetera.  The atonal and urgent score suggests that what we’re seeing is the prelude to some sort of apocalyptic event or incipient bloodshed.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, as if around the corner an earthquake or mass murder is waiting.

(Sometimes the ABSENCE of the score is just as disturbing, as in the scene in a church when Daniel Plainview is reluctantly baptized, or most of the scenes in the finale, taking place in 1927.)

But ticking off these technical details still feels lacking.  This is the second draft of this review, and I still feel as if I’m not getting across how much this movie works on the viewer.  Or, at least, how it worked on ME.  This was only the third time I’ve watched the movie since first seeing it in 2007, and I was hooked all over again, right from the opening shot, with those dissonant strings playing over a panorama of sunbaked hills and scrub brush.

The movie just FEELS perfect.  It’s anchored by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is in literally every scene except two that I can recall.  But the artistry of everything else at play is just…I am at a loss for words.  It is, as another review puts it, “wholly original.”  There is just nothing else like it.  Sure, it’s definitely inspired by Kubrick, but it takes things to another level.

It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

MICHAEL CLAYTON

By Marc S. Sanders

The corporate world can be murder sometimes.  Just ask a well known “fixer” like Michael Clayton. 

George Clooney plays the title role that’ll leave your head spinning while watching the film, and thereafter keep you thinking about how frighteningly true much of what you’ve seen, in this fictional account from master writer Tony Gilroy, could potentially be all too real.

Michael Clayton is a lawyer who does not practice law but rather “fixes” sticky situations for his law firm.  When the attorneys of the firm don’t have enough imagination to swindle their client from bearing responsibility or surrendering to guilt, they turn to Michael.  Michael will know what to do.  Ironically, Gilroy’s script (which is also his directorial debut) will have you believe that Clayton is at a career midlife crisis moment where he understands that nothing really can be fixed or simply swept under the rug.  Not even money can buy any of us out of a guilty situation when there’s nothing to work with but the black and white facts of actual guilt.  Early on in the film, Michael explains to an aggravated high-priced client that there’s no getting out of the fact that a late-night hit and run is nothing else but a late-night hit and run.  Can’t undent a car.  Can’t bring a bicyclist back to life.  Can’t fix what is permanently broken.

Moving on to the main storyline will demonstrate the same ideal.  If knowing admission of guilt and wrongdoing is documented on paper in plain English, then there’s no getting around this.  Moreover, there’s no getting around the fact that one of the best lawyers in Michael’s firm, played expertly by Tom Wilkinson, is consciously arrested in his own guilt of ethics violation.  To be considered one of the greatest lawyers in the country, would you factor in how to squeak out a win at no costs? Would it be when you can accept that your own client is guilty of wrongdoing and help them from that point?  I don’t know.  I’m not a lawyer.  The point is that Tony Gilroy implies that Wilkinson’s character, Arthur Eden, was once considered among his peers in high esteem in order to earn the reputation he has. Then another way when perhaps that reputation was based on actions not so honorable.  As Arthur struggles with this conundrum, maybe it’s only telling that his wealthy corporate client, an environmental weed killer manufacturer and his law firm colleagues easily think it’s nothing like that.  Arthur must be literally losing his mind.  It’s the only explanation.  He’d have to be crazy to literally strip his clothes off in the middle of a witness deposition, and later run after the witness in a freezing cold parking lot, while stark naked.

The pawn of the corporate client is represented by a shark named Karen Crowder (a brilliant Tilda Swinton, putting on the American Ivy League grad persona).  Karen is only insecure in how capable she’s actually considered when behind her closed doors.  She nervously practices what she will say at presentations for the corporation or interviews that hold her client in the highest regard.  She’s also desperate to maintain a calm and unpanicked appearance of this firm who clearly caused the death of many people that were exposed to their product.  Karen will make certain this knowledge never sees the light of day.  Karen talks to her mirror while stuttering over her lines.  By the way, if Karen was so confident in what her corporate client stands for, then would she even have a stutter to begin with?  This is where Tilda Swinton is great with Gilroy’s script.  What she knows would be the death of her career. Then again, this is her career we are talking about here. 

Tony Gilroy’s script is deliberately muddied in its first act.  Random scenes that carry no relevance to one another occur.  Michael sits at an underground poker table. Arthur spews off endless speeches that give a voice to madness. An army of lawyers led by a shrewd Sydney Pollack are up late at night sifting through piles and piles of documents.  Karen talks to herself while smoothing out the wrinkles of her suit while getting dressed in the morning.  Then a car explodes, and the movie sends us back in time to four days prior.  This might seem frustrating on a first viewing, but I urge anyone interested in seeing the film to be patient.  Gilroy demonstrates that if crime truly occurs within the offices of corporate high-rise buildings, then it’s not going to be anything but complex.  It’s only when it is gradually simplified like a math equation, do we see how justifiable the desperation of these crimes really are.  Murder and attempted murders and violations of law and ethics are committed in the film Michael Clayton, and yet no one is carrying a gun. 

This film boasts a brilliant cast ready for complicated characters.  Clooney is far from his charming other characters that evoke cuteness and handsome tuxedo clad appearances.  He’s a tired professional soul, exhausted on the heavy lifting he does for his firm and their apathetic clients.  He’s failed at his dream of running a New York City restaurant with his recovering alcoholic brother and he’s mounted in debt to loan sharks.  Wilkinson is old and past the age of winning at all costs.  He can’t sleep with the contributions he’s lent to criminals he’s legally served and rescued on paper.  Swinton is the younger one of the trio with a massively rich and successful future ahead of her, while holding on to the same mentality of what Clooney and Wilkinson’s characters once had.  The only issue is that maybe she’s taking a few too many steps way too far. 

Tony Gilroy has written brilliantly faulty characters who must function with strength, but are weakened by their lack in morale or inability to recover from never having morale, and the actors he’s directed in this film deliver the message sensationally.

Michael Clayton is a smart film, and Michael Clayton is a great, great film.