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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Michael Clayton

This is one of the most underrated movies I have seen. When I saw it in theater I couldn't quite put my fingers on why I found it so mesmerizing, but it has haunted me all along.

Putting the Blu-ray disc in the player, for some reason I decided to turn on the commentary track first, even though the plot has already faded in memory. Surprise, surprise. I had always assumed that, given it was the first directing effort by a renowned writer, its strengths lie in the dialog, the narrative structure, the plot, and the characters. Those elements are all excellent, of course, but I did not fully appreciate how beautiful it looks.

With only a fraction of my attention on the chatters of Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy (brothers), I stared at the shots and the color scheme. With all the dense and rapid dialog, visually it is remarkably still and uncluttered, with a stark palette and a gaze on faces and eyes. There is a simple elegance in the framing and composition of most shots. The lighting and shadow are exquisite without being showy or self-conscious, and the background lights and shapes have an abstract beauty that is simultaneously delicate and intense.

One of the movie's tricks is fluid scene-to-scene transitions, sometimes with temporally scrambled voice-overs, sometimes with clever editing (see Tilda Swinton's entry scene). Another trick is movements in the out-of-focus background, scurrying at the edges of the frame and the edges of the viewers' consciousness, oozing an ominous sense of conspiracy and dread.

As a moviegoer I am extremely grateful for directors/editors who trust and respect my intelligence and attention. Thank you for choosing people like me to make your movies for.


I can think of no other movie that reflects the mood of the era better (2001 to 2008). It speaks to me.

On the commentary track, Tony Gilroy talks about how heavily he has been influenced by the movies of 1970s. The period of late 1960s to first half of 1970s is truly the golden age of American cinema, the end of which was marked by the commercial successes "Jaws" and "Star Wars." One of these days I'll have to systemically watch the classics from that time. It occurs to me that the parallel between that time and ours is no accident. Vietnam war, Civil Rights movement, social unrest, the assassinations, and, to cap it off, Watergate. Deja vu.


simon said...

I like this one too, but I don't think it's particularly underrated? Well reviewed, nominated in all major Oscar categories, won for the leading actress... Perhaps it appears so because it is indeed low-key?

Jun said...


Mark said...

Thanks, Jun. Im going to see this.

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