Sunday, November 4, 2007

michael clayton/gone baby gone

i'm not a person who minds spoilers, but here are two movies that are really worth seeing without knowing much about them in advance.

i saw both, one after the other, yesterday afternoon.

let me say a few words about them without actually saying anything in particular. both contain career-defining performances, though neither is a huge departure for its actors, who play very much to type.

george clooney as michael clayton displays his emotions on his face, though characteristically throughout the film he cannot say what he feels. the performance should gain the actor new respect, especially among audiences who know clooney mainly as the sexiest man alive.

i've been a fan of casey affleck since gus van sant's to die for. in gone baby gone, he proves himself more than capable in a leading role. in fact, he may be 'the' new leading man of the decade, much as james dean was in the 1950s or jack nicholson, in the 1970s.

tom wilkinson in michael clayton + amy ryan in gone baby gone are ideal candidates for supporting actor nominations for oscars. wilkinson takes on a howard beale-like role. ryan, who has appeared on tv's the wire + in the film you can count on me, is revelatory as the mother of a little girl who has disappeared.

both films contain plot twists. gone baby gone has the more spectacular + troubling twists. michael clayton has the more innovative + breathtaking narrative techniques.

both films touch on politics, but only indirectly washington politics. gone baby gone looks at the politics of neighborhoods (boston), the police, + local media. michael clayton looks at the politics of corporations, the law, + siblings.

both films are directed by first-time directors better known for other aspects of filmmaking. tony gilroy, the writer of the bourne screenplays, wrote + directed the stylishly cold + intellectually engaging michael clayton. ben affleck, casey's brother + movie star, proves in gone baby gone to be in the vein of clint eastwood, another movie star once derided for his limited range who has proved himself a nuanced film director.

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