WEIRDLAND: Do-Gooders Stars

Monday, September 17, 2007

Do-Gooders Stars

"This week's hot Hollywood couple, Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal, danced briefly but divinely last night at a beyond-posh Toronto Film Festival party co-sponsored by TIME magazine. Across the way in the huge Design Exchange room, once home to the Toronto Stock Exchange, George Clooney stood in a corner, pinned by the admiration of other, less famous swells. If the three eminences had come there to schmooze with a TIME movie critic, they missed their big chance. Even so, they seemed as happy as celebrities ought to be, given their privileged status in our bi-national movie culture.

Clooney, whom I'd call the exemplary Hollywood star, has been especially generous in lending his aura to well-chosen issues and charities. The top actors also appear in films that are, in their subject matter and their underdog status in the commercial movie universe, their own worthy causes. That's what brought Reese and Jake and George up to Toronto: to raise awareness of thorny issues, to speak up for movies that make bold statements and, in the process, to get rivers of publicity for their politically and emotionally charged endeavors.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke's famous phrase could serve as the text for both Clooney's Michael Clayton and the Witherspoon-Gyllenhaal Rendition. Both are fictionalized expos�s: the first of corporate malfeasance, the second of Bush Administration policy in its war on Muslim extremists. At the center of each is a man trapped in a dilemma between doing what is damn well expected of him and risking his livelihood, and maybe his life, by doing the right thing.

Clooney did that by not taking a salary on Michael Clayton. The entire film was made for about $20 million, or a top star's salary on a typical movie; but it has the sheen of a picture four times its budget. It also carries the deep distrust of U.S. corporations except for the movie conglomerates that has become the badge of Hollywood liberalism. (At the Venice Film Festival, where Michael Clayton played, Clooney got annoyed when he was asked to square the sentiments of this movie with his appearing in commercials sponsored by giant companies. He replied, "I'm not going to apologize to you for trying to make a living once in a while," then turning off the mic and kept muttering. A few moments later he was his genial self again.)

[...] Clooney keeps impressing me by his alternation of frivolous and serious roles, and his apparently effortless ability to make both convincing. He can go from heartthrob to Oscar candidate simply by relaxing his smiling face into a rictus of exhaustion. The frown lines dominate here; Clayton is worn out, and the movie spends a little too much time documenting his dissipation. It's more compelling when it follows the money, and the other clues Edens has sleuthed out about how far a company will go to protect its good name (and its stock price) by suppressing information about the toxic effects of its policies.

Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter (all three Bourne movies) making his directorial debut here, balances character study with thriller elements, while adroitly shifting the plot's sequence of tenses over a four-day period. Whatever lethargy his movie falls into in its early passages, it rouses itself for a finale about which I should say little, except that it's likely to send the audience home happy and satisfied. I guess it's just the contrarian in me that wonders if real corporations are so awful, and the stalwart souls and whistle blowers who work for them so numerous, as they are in the Hollywood films that mean to expose the one and praise the other. Source:


clairex said...

I loved Clooney in "Syriana", althoug I still haven't forbidden him he robbed the Oscar to Jake, lol!

Kendra said...

sad fact!