Monday, February 18, 2008

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): You think this boy Moss has got any notion of the sorts of sons of bitches that're huntin' him?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): I don't know, he ought to. He's seen the same things I've seen, and it's certainly made an impression on me.

Ed Tom Bell: You know Charlie Walser? Has the place east of Sanderson? Well you know how they used to slaughter beeves, hit 'em with a maul right here to stun 'em... and then up and slit their throats? Well here Charlie has one trussed up and all set to drain him and the beef comes to. It starts thrashing around, six hundred pounds of very pissed-off livestock if you'll pardon me... Charlie grabs his gun there to shoot the damn thing in the head but what with the swingin' and twistin' it's a glance-shot and ricochets around and comes back hits Charlie in the shoulder. You go see Charlie, he still can't reach up with his right hand for his hat... Point bein', even in the contest between man and steer the issue is not certain.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem): And you know what's going to happen now. You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.
Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson): You go to hell.
Anton Chigurh: Let me ask you something. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?
Carson Wells: Do you have any idea how goddamn crazy you are?
Anton Chigurh: You mean the nature of this conversation?
Carson Wells: I mean the nature of you.

At a glance: The Coen Brothers study of a chain of events begun with a lost stash of cash and a cold-blooded killer is evocative with its ugly brutality, stark locations, quirky sets, and elegant prose – it should easily gather a handful of Academy Awards.

A hunter/tracker and retired welder (Josh Brolin) discovers a scene of carnage; a score of Mexicans, murdered while trafficking heroin.  He grabs a big satchel of money, which places a cold-blooded murderer (Javier Bardem) and a gang of Mexicans on his trail. Also in the mix are the local Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) and a bounty hunter (Woody Harrelson).

Aided by a seriously creepy performance by Bardem, the Coen Brothers have painted a chilling portrait of a killer, set in backwater towns of Texas populated by simple, honest folk. The stark photography by Roger Deakins combines with the meticulously chosen sets and locations to portray a Texas as depressing-looking and quirky as the story that is told.

It was almost impossible to single out a handful of great quotes from this film; basically the entire script qualifies as one big great quote. This script should win the 2008 Academy Aware for best adapted screenplay. If you can deal with the ugly violence, you will be rewarded with heaps of beautiful prose. Rating: 3.5 of 4

"…strong, evocative storytelling pared to the bone and braced with a sensibility perfectly matched to the material.
- Sean Axmaker (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

"The Coens load the film with realistic touches that add grit and meaning to the almost mythical plot."
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)

"Virtuoso. A film of pin-sharp principles, cross-hair precision and suffocating tension, this Coens stunner hits like a cattle gun between the eyes."
- Jamie Graham (Total Film)

"Violent, poetic, gripping, thrilling and blackly funny: that’ll be the Coens doing what they do best then. Now with added humanity."
- Ian Nathan (Empire Magazine)

"With its sly wit, dark intelligence and tense action sequences this film re-establishes the Coens as two of American cinema's most talented directors. It's also the best adaptation of McCarthy's work to date and an unmissable crime movie."
- Jamie Russell (Channel 4 Film)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Michael Clayton (2007)

"How do I talk to you, Arthur – so you hear me? Like a child? Like a nut? Like everything’s fine? What’s the secret? Because I need you to hear me."
- Michael Clayton (George Clooney)

Michael Clayton: I am not the enemy.
Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson): Then who are you?

At a glance: Part corporate thriller, part character study, Michael Clayton excels on the strength of George Clooney’s powerful performance, combined with the no-nonsense dialogue by writer/director Tony Gilroy.

Michael Clayton is a man whose life is spiraling down. It’s more than just his financial woes, caused by a brother who went into partnership with him and then succumbed to alcoholism. It has infected every cranny of his life, from his job to his relationships. Sadness  and hollowness is etched on Michael’s face, even as he still goes about business as usual as a ‘janitor’ for a major law firm.

As his financial difficulties reach a head, the loan that he requires from the firm hinges on whether he can find and control Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), an independent lawyer and long-time friend, who, after six years of defending corporate poison manufacturer uNorth, has suddenly seen the light and has been amassing evidence against them. Just how far will uNorth go to protect themselves?

Like the fantasy novel being read by Michael's son, this is a story of a coming together of people who share the same dream. Michael’s soul-less existence as a uber-efficient corporate lackey is about to end, replaced by a much more dangerous path, where he must travel according to his moral compass and use his skills for good instead of evil.

Clooney’s face tells the story of his character – when Arthur dies, it is as if a mask has been removed, and he suddenly seems lighter, resolved, with purpose. Clooney’s face and acting carry the story, helped by great, no-nonsense dialogue written by talented screenwriter Tony Gilroy. Tilda Swinton is excellent as a corporation representative who goes over the line – the scenes where she prepares for work are simple and fascinating, revealing an insight into her soul, often without her saying a word. The movie feels like a ‘movie’: coherent, focused, intimate. It lacks the flash and explosions and tricks inherent in most thrillers, opting instead for strong writing and believable characters. It is not surprising that is has garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay (written directly for the screen).

Tony Gilroy has been around for awhile, with credited screenplays for The Devil’s Advocate, Armageddon, Proof of Life, and the Bourne trilogy. This is his first directorial role, with more to come: Keep an eye out for Duplicity (starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Billy Bob Thornton, and Tom Wilkinson), due out in 2009. Rating: 3.5 of 4

"With his focused, charismatic manner and a character whose control is challenged by a colleague's principles, Clooney sustains the tension in a case of corporate corruption."
- Jules Brenner (Cinema Signals)

"A poignant and powerful thriller about corporate malfeasance that reveals what it is like to face life-shattering moments.
- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat (Spirituality and Practice)

 "A dark, engaging drama that asks some difficult moral questions, Michael Clayton is a classy piece of filmmaking with yet another in a long line of fine performances from George Clooney."
- Saxon Bullock (Channel 4 Film)

"This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Movie Star."
- Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Atonement (2007)

Robbie (James McAvoy): I'm sorry, you weren't meant to see that. It was the wrong version.
Cecilia (Keira Knightley: What was in the right one?
Robbie: It was more formal, less...
Cecilia: Anatomical?

Briony (Saoirse Ronan): Lola, can I tell you something? Something really terrible?
Lola (Juno Temple): Yes please.

Robbie: [voiceover] Dearest Cecilia, the story can resume. The one I had been planning on that evening walk. I can become again the man who once crossed the surrey park at dusk, in my best suit, swaggering on the promise of life. The man who, with the clarity of passion, made love to you in the library. The story can resume. I will return. Find you, love you, marry you and live without shame.

At a glance: This unique, ambitious, and deeply tragic love story has moments of beauty and passion, but the screenplay makes a misguided attempt to invoke sympathy where none is warranted, which may leave some viewers dissatisfied and uninvolved.

In 1930s England, Cecilia (Keira Knightley) has spent plenty of time around the family gardener and handyman servant, Robby (James McAvoy). Although she has tried to stay aloof, she is in fact in love with him. When he sends her the wrong version of an apology letter – a version that is quite sexually explicit, her denial of that love is broken, and they make love and pledge their hearts to each other. The only problem is that her little sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan) has also read the letter, and it only confuses her fanciful mind and fuels a jealousy brought on by her ongoing fantasy crush on Robby. When Briony’s young visiting cousin Lola is attacked by a man that evening, Briony knows and sees it is someone else, but her mind convinces itself that it was Robby. With the weight and wealth of her family behind her, her testimony is enough to send Robby to prison. Three years later, Robby opts out of prison by taking an offer to fight the Germans in the French countryside of World War Two. Will Briony atone for her sins? Will Cecilia and Robby ever be together?

Atonement is a story of mistakes, lost chances, and tragedy, and it has the type of script that is geared toward Academy Awards, and has indeed been nominated for a slew of them, including Art Direction, Cinematography (it should win this one), Costume Design, Supporting Actress (Saoirse Ronan), and Picture. And there is much to make Atonement a movie worth watching. There are moments of cinematic triumph, like a long nightmarish tracking shot through a war-ravaged beach in France where waiting soldiers sing, vomit, shoot horses, and ride on the remains of seaside carousels. There is the exquisitely lit interiors of the mansion, shot in cathedral style by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. There is the clever use of an antique typewriter as soundtrack percussion. But on the flip side, sometimes the soundtrack is overbearingly morose where the script and acting should have been enough to deliver sorrow. And there is a misguided attempt to evoke pity for a woman who, as a 13 year old girl, knowingly accused a man of a crime she knew he didn't commit, just because of a crush and misguided jealousy. There’s also a totally unnecessary twist designed solely to tug the heartstrings – a twist so ridiculous it required a closing soliloquy by Vanessa Redgrave in a failed attempt to explain it. All in all, it’s a mixed bag: thought-provoking but (because of its misplaced morals) uninvolving for some viewers.  Rating: 2.5 of 4

" [Director Joe] Wright brings off enough scenes to leave us with moderately good feelings about the time spent, but he lacks the David Lean-like vision and flair that might have turned this 75-year epic of love, war and family betrayal into an unforgettable movie."
- William Arnold (Seattle Post-Intelligence)

"Cleansing by self atonement doesn't hack it, and the resolution provided is superficial at best."
- Jules Brenner (Cinema Signals)