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State Of Play May 1, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Based on a six-part British television miniseries, this is a complex tale of corporate and political conspiracy. Set in Washington D.C., State of Play tells the story of a journalist, Cal McAffrey, investigating the death of a woman working for a Congressman, Stephen Collins, who also happens to be his friend and roommate from college. While it is made to seem like an accident at first, he and his associate, Della Frye, soon discover that it is a murder and that powerful people are involved. Now, he must uncover the story to save his friend and get over his guilt.

This film seems to be based on some really solid material. The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan (who wrote The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (the writer-director of Michael Clayton, Duplicity) and Billy Ray (who co-wrote and directed Breach) is quite an asset. Though it is presented quite competently as a thriller, there is quite an interesting drama bustling underneath that layer. The film hints at some complex relationships without really delving into them. Sad, because they seemed quite potent. The journalistic setting of the film, quite reminiscent of films like All The President’s Men, is what allows it to be a thriller and it certainly makes the film all the more effective. For this part, director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland) sets the stage from the very first scene for an engaging thriller and doesn’t let go till the end.

The film has a cast of brilliant actors. Apart from topliners Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, the film also features the likes of Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn and Jason Bateman. With such a cast, this is a film that was difficult to really avoid. Crowe gets a meaty part and he sinks his teeth into it (and he is a better match for the part than Brad Pitt). Affleck is impressive too. McAdams has a really lovable persona and I’d love to see more of her in roles like these but Robin Wright Penn (soon to be seen without the Penn) is the one that springs a surprise in a role that has limited screen time. Mirren is always a pleasure to watch and she gets a little bit of scope to do her thing unlike, say, a National Treasure: Book of Secrets. I was also quite happy to see Bateman in a role that, for once, doesn’t seem to be an extension of his part in Arrested Development.

This is one of the more watchable thrillers in recent months, Watch it for the actors. Watch it if you enjoy thrillers. Watch it if you like tales of political intrigue.

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Duplicity March 28, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Tony Gilroy’s latest directorial venture is a corporate espionage thriller featuring a romantic entanglement between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Like his previous film, Michael Clayton, this one is quite complicated too. Little can be divulged about the plot without give away anything or lying. But the title of the film describes the intent of the characters and the film accurately. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Duplicity is “contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action; especially: the belying of one’s true intentions by deceptive words or action”.

Gilroy, who co-wrote the Bourne movies, is no stranger to thrillers. The premise is intriguing, the dialogue is solid and the screenplay is gripping. Unlike Bourne or Clayton, this film also has its share of lighter moments. The opening scene at the airport hangar sets the tone for the film and is one that stayed with me after.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are a treat to watch and the supporting cast is first rate. Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Lady In The Water), in particular, is superb as the unscrupulous CEO who wants to beat his competitor at any cost. Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), in a smaller part, plays his nemesis.

While this film requires you to pay attention and utilize your gray matter, it isn’t the sort of film that makes you ponder. Duplicity is more mainstream than Michael Clayton and should find favor with audiences that enjoy this genre and do not mind a convoluted non-linear narrative.

Michael Clayton February 24, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Writer Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, The Bourne Trilogy) makes his directorial debut with Michael Clayton. An intellectual thriller with strong dramatic elements, this is just the sort of film that critics and film buffs will love but ordinary viewers might find it tedious.

Michael Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t go to court anymore. He is listed as special counsel for his firm and his job is to clean up the mess that is created by his firm’s big clients. His bosses refer to him as “miracle worker” while he is more pragmatic about his job as a “janitor” and to paraphrase him, the smaller the mess, the easier it is to clean. This time however, the mess isn’t small. A lawyer handling a big class action lawsuit suddenly develops a conscience that he can’t fight and decides to go against the company that he is representing. Clayton is sent to get the situation under control but can he? And more importantly, will he?

Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, Shakespeare in Love) plays the lawyer who develops a conscience. His role is one that requires more discernable histrionics and can be easily susceptible to overacting but he doesn’t go overboard and you start believing he is crazy enough to do the right thing. Tilda Swinton (The Deep End, The Chronicles of Narnia), on the other hand, gets a role that requires a subtle performance and I really enjoyed her work. Even though her role is short, she gets some really good scenes to perform in. Sydney Pollack (the director of films like Out of Africa and Three Days of the Condor, who also apparently acts at times) is actually quite nice as the boss of the law firm where George Clooney works. Clooney, of course, plays Michael Clayton and he is solid in a role that is perfectly suited for him (but as he himself notes, he might lose the Oscar to Daniel Day Lewis).

Tony Gilroy’s screenplay is topnotch and he creates a great mood for this film as the director. He decides against a straight narrative and that makes the film more complicated. There is a lot that is conveyed through the dialogue and the viewer would need to connect the dots many a time. The viewer that stays with the film in the first half hour would be able to appreciate the rest. Many might question the need for such a narrative but it definitely serves a purpose. It brings all the primary characters and issues into focus in the early part of the film and then manages to keep your engrossed as you are trying to figure out how everything pans out and what it means. This, unfortunately, alienates many viewers as is clearly evident from the domestic gross (under $50 million).

If you are expecting this to be an exciting, crowd-pleasing thriller, you might be disappointed. If you are prepared for an intelligently-plotted conscientious legal thriller that requires you to pay rapt attention, this should definitely appeal to you. This is the sort of movie that you need to watch a second time to get the best out of it. Both as the writer and director, Gilroy has the choice to make this a crowd pleaser like Erin Brockovich but he doesn’t go that way. His goal doesn’t seem to be to please the audience or to educate them about how money can be more important to big companies than lives. Instead, he decides to investigate how morals can affect the decisions people take, influencing their lives and how situations in life can affect people’s morals. Reliving the film from this perspective can keep you thinking for a long time.