The Heart of the Matter in Beirut

There’s a great scene in Brad Anderson’s latest film, Beirut, where a former party-diplomat turned washed-up labor contract negotiator Mason Skiles (a frazzled-yet-still-dapper-perfect Jon Hamm) settles into his Beirut highrise hotel after returning to the city for the first time in a decade and after finding it a hostile, gunshots-outside-of-the-airport-and-checkpoint-riddled mess, pours himself a drink and walks to the window to take in the bitter, shattered view of a stooping, bombed-out skyline.  Anderson’s camera then shifts POV’s to that of the bombed out skyline as it pans out and we see Mason staring out his window, the hotel itself one of those battered buildings, a shell-hole and tentacled crack blighting its side just a few windows away from Mason’s own.

You can imagine a late-era Graham Greene having written the scene, but it’s Tony Gilroy who penned the screenplay instead.  Gilroy adroitly uses the civil war-torn era Beirut of the 70’s and early 80’s the same way Greene used WWII blitzkrieg era London (in The End of the Affair) and post-WWII era Vienna (in The Third Man).  It’s a cluster **** of diplomatic nightmares, crumbling buildings, intrigue and perils (of both the heart and the body).  Continue reading

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A Review of Kevin MacDonald’s “State of Play”

Im telling ya, Ben, I dont care what they say, this long hair is gonna work for me.

Crowe explains to Affleck, "I'm telling ya, Ben, I don't care what they say, this long hair is gonna work for me."

Yesterday’s News Still Blog-Worthy
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A gruff old-school reporter (Russell Crowe playing his A-game) becomes personally entangled in a breaking news story surrounding his old college buddy turned congressman (Ben Affleck, not as bad as you would think) and a young female aid who died under mysterious circumstances in the surprisingly plausible political thriller State of Play from director Kevin MacDonald who was previously responsible for The Last King of Scotland.  Though designed as a throw-back to paranoid investigative thrillers from the 1970’s, relevance is gained when the massive cover-up revealed becomes a vehicle for the filmmakers to explore the death of print news at the hand of digital mediums.

The twisty and engaging screenplay is credited to three scribes: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. But it’s Gilroy’s fingerprints that shape the story with all the overlapping dialogue and conspiracy talk that will remind many of his Michael Clayton.  Adapted from a sprawling BBC miniseries created by Paul Abbott, the trio is especially deft in their condensing of the story into a fully digestible two hours. Even as new characters and twists keep coming, the audience is never left out in the cold. They also give the cast plenty to chew on with some great throw-away lines amidst all the posturing between the cops, reporters, politicians and sleaze-bags.

Though it’s Crowe and Helen Mirren as his sparring and quick-witted boss who shine the most, this is essentially an ensemble piece, and it’s especially clever when Jason Bateman arrives on screen for a few pivotal scenes as a smug public relations guru who’s too dumb to realize he knows too much. The cast also includes Robin Wright Penn as Affleck’s wife, Jeff Daniels as the arrogant majority whip and Harry Lennix, who as a D.C. detective makes a compelling case here for the lead role in the Barack Obama Story. The only miscalculation in the casting is poor Rachel McAdams, lovely but annoying in her high-pitch as Crowe’s blogging tag-along looking to kick it old-school and get something in print.

By the third act State of Play overplays its hand in its attempts to be timely with too much talk of the privatization of the military, Capitol Hill sex scandals and traditional newspapers losing out in the digital age to bloggers more concerned with gossip than real journalism. It could’ve also been more subtle in its preaching about the importance of serious investigative reporting.  It should be commended, however, for an otherwise smart screenplay that doesn’t spell out all its twists and turns too early and the well polished cast who give the film a slick sheen. Even though it might be reporting on yesterday’s news, State of Play still makes for solid rainy day entertainment and is worthy of blogging about.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

A Review of Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton”

Stylish Legal Thriller Ends in Hung Jury, 16 October 2007
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

So there’s this giant corporation that creates some super-pesticide (or something) that gets into the ground water of some rural upper Midwestern farmers, and low and behold, leads to all kinds of hellish cancer (exactly what the in-house scientists warned of) that then–Surprise!– turns into a three billion dollar class action lawsuit. Six years into the seemingly endless proceedings, the lead attorney defending the evil corporation (Tom Wilkinson, channeling Peter Finch from “Network”) turns into a raving morally conflicted lunatic. In steps the firm’s “fixer” (George Clooney, somber and serious), the film’s title character, to make sense of things and perform damage control. Meanwhile, the corporation’s in-house counsel (Tilda Swinton, perfect as an unethical lawyer in way over her head) scrambles towards a fiscally feasible settlement before the truth is leaked.

Despite the convoluted legal mumbo-jumbo, “Michael Clayton” is entertaining enough, as much of it results in some well executed scenes of wire-tapping and murder. In his directorial debut, screenwriter Tony Gilroy successfully plays with some stylistic elements. Most of this occurs in the film’s editing as time-frames and POV’s are occasionally jumbled, and dialogue frequently overlaps onto scene transitions. It keeps the viewers on their heels even when what’s going is rather dry and boring. The early scenes with Swinton’s character are especially well done, as is the elliptical focus on a car bombing.

The performances are all top-notch, with the normally smug Clooney nailing the lead role with just the right amount of nonchalant star power. Unfortunately, the attempts at character development are superficial and stretch credibility. If Clayton is such a legal genius and so good at fixing problems, why does he have gambling issues and get sucked into bad business deals with his clichéd shifty brother? Clayton is also given an obnoxiously precocious son who plays into some of the film’s more literary motifs, an ailing father, and a noble cop brother (yes, another brother) who factors too conveniently into the film’s conclusion. None of these elements or unnecessary characters explain why Clayton is the way he is, or for that matter, who he really is.

“Michael Clayton” comes to a modestly satisfying conclusion, though the internal conflict of Clayton isn’t as compelling as Gilroy so valiantly wants it to be. Thanks to some stylish attempts to invigorate what is traditionally a low energy genre and some excellent performances, the film scores slightly higher than a top-line John Grisham adaptation, but still amounts to nothing extraordinary.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

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