I'm not exaggerating when I say that yesterday I literally spent most of my day at the movie theater catching up with three films (the first time I've ever done that). And then today I caught another film on campus that I had been dying to see for months. While none of the films blew me away, the performances in them were, to borrow from that immortal Bogie line, the stuff that dreams are made of. Here is my rundown on the films I've seen.
Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007): If Michael Clayton isn't exactly a groundbreaking film in the legal thriller genre, the film and director Tony Gilroy deserve credit for delivering a fresh and interesting legal thriller that doesn't feel like a TV show or a vapid John Grisham adaptation. George Clooney plays the title character, a "janitor" (he cleans up the messes) at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country who is told to clean up the controversy caused by Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), the firm's top lawyer, who seemingly had a meltdown during a deposition. Their client, U-North, has been fighting a lawsuit for six years against people claiming their chemicals have killed people and it seems that Arthur's acquisition of documents proving their guilt has prompted him, realizing he's fighting for the bad guys, to go "mad." Clooney is, as always, solid and charismatic as Clayton, proving yet again that he's just getting better as he's getting older, but the film belongs to Wilkinson, ripping into that Chayefskian opening monologue with all the disgust and gusto one can imagine, and Tilda Swinton as an amoral attorney at U-North who gets involved in some dirty deeds. Whereas the strength of Wilkinson's performance lies in his grandiosity, Swinton relies on the quiet intensity of her character- a nervous, flustered mouse who somehow finds the strength she needs to be a good lawyer when it's absolutely necessary...and then falls apart whenever she's not.
The Brave One (Neil Jordan, 2007): I'm not quite sure why this movie got steamrolled the way it did: sure, it's a bit contrived (the cell phone going off in the convenience store), kind of racist (everyone who attacks Jodie Foster is either black or Latino) and the ending is a little ridiculous (but, in its defense, would we really have wanted Jodie Foster to atone for what she has done by going to jail?), but I feel there is more to this film than the "Jodie Foster is a vigilante" label that it has received. To me, it felt less like a vigilante film than one in which all of the security and complicity that Jodie Foster's Erica Bain has known before a brutal attack which killed her fiancee and left her in a coma has suddenly been erased. At first it is fear that replaces the security, but eventually it becomes an unleashing of one hell of a violent streak. She doesn't know where it comes from, but becomes a part of her all too quickly and easily (there is a great voice over that Erica gives while leaving one of the scenes of her crime in which she questions herself as to why she didn't just show them the gun so they would back off instead of shooting them straightaway). As this woman with a mission, Jodie Foster gives a career-best performance. She's no stranger to this genre (Panic Room, Flightplan, The Silence of the Lambs, even The Accused to an extent), but this time she just hits it out of the ballpark. Want proof? Watch her in that elevator scene where she finds the drug smuggler her police officer friend (Terrence Howard) has been trying to convict for years and look at her face as she sizes the douchebag up....Brilliant with a capital "B."
3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold, 2007): I'm not a huge fan of Westerns--I can probably count on one hand the ones I truly love--but James Mangold's remake of 3:10 to Yuma is certainly one of the best I have seen in a long while. It's not an especially deep Western in the manner of The Searchers or Unforgiven, but it is, however, one hell of a good time. Russell Crowe plays an outlaw who is finally captured by the law and is escorted by Christian Bale and couple of other men to meet the 3:10 train to the Yuma prison. But, Crowe's gang of outlaws (now led by Ben Foster) is constantly on their tail trying to free Crowe. The location shooting, as it should be with a Western, is beautiful and even if the violence is amped up for a blood hungry audience, it's still exciting and intoxicating. Bale is merely adequate as Dan, a down on his luck farmer trying to repay his debt, which is rather a shame because he is such a brilliant actor that he almost seems wasted here. On the other hand, Crowe delivers one of his finest performances to date as bastardly villain Ben Wade and Ben Foster gives a star making performance as the slightly effeminate, totally crazed outlaw trying to save his object of affection Crowe from the law.
La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan, 2007): It's such a shame that Dahan's biopic of French chanteuse Edith Piaf is such a mess because it probably could have been a really great film if it had been handled better. Not only is it drowning in biopic cliches, but it's also edited in a seemingly random matter that jumps around from Edith as a young girl to singer in New York to young woman on the streets to on her death bed that really distracts from her life (and still left me confused about a couple of points in her life). La Vie en Rose's saving grace, however, is the immaculate performance of French actress Marion Cotillard as Piaf. I'm in such awe after witnessing this portrayal that the only way I can describe it is to borrow the words of Stephen Holden in his review of the film for The New York Times: "Marion Cotillard's feral portrait of the French singer Edith Piaf as a captive wild animal hurling herself at the bars of her cage is the most astonishing immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another I've ever encountered in a film." Cotillard is so intune with Piaf that even though she is lip syncing to her songs, she makes it feel like she is actually singing them herself (a tougher feat than would imagine). Plus, those last five minutes or so where Cotillard/Piaf premieres her song "Non, je ne regrette rien" (which translates to "No, I regret nothing") at the Olympia while juxtaposing with her as a child and then on her deathbed is one of the most alternately breathtaking/horrifying scenes I've seen all year.
Brave One: *** 1/2
3:10 to Yuma: *** 1/2
La Vie en Rose: ***