Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Double Feat

Cross-posted from Maassive.com

It’s not uncommon for me to see two movies over the weekend. It is however unusual for either of the films to be any good. This weekend was especially unusual in that on both occasions I left the theater struck numb with satisfaction.

On Saturday afternoon, it was Michael Clayton, a legal thriller that scored a whopping 90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m a big fan of Clooney, but I’m not always a big fan of “directorial debuts” by screenwriters, even if they’re somewhat notable. In this case, it’s Tony Gilroy, writer of the Bourne Trilogy. However, when you’ve got Steven Soderbergh, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella producing the film, you know the shit’s been vetted. Plus, Robert Elswit directed the photography, and looking at his IMDB page I realize he may indeed be my favorite cinematographer ever: Syriana, Magnolia, Goodnight & Goodluck. I think it’s safe to say the film was probably designed to net the three stars, Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson each an Oscar nomination. That usually bugs me, but in this case, they’re all three overdue. Anyway, the film was brilliant, and I wish reviewers would take note that the term “gripping” should only be applied to films of this caliber.

Tonight, I hauled ass to the Cinematheque at the Center for the Contemporary Arts to catch the single Sunday screening of Chronicle of an Escape, or, in its native Spanish, Cronica de una fuga. One of my favorite films of all time is Four Days in September, which I frequently use (along with Battle of Algiers) to illustrate the thin grey line between terrorists and freedom fighters. Set in Argentina during the junta, Four Days follows a group of students who kidnap the American ambassador, because, by their rationale, only by holding an important foreigner hostage will they succeed in getting their message aired on television and securing the release of several political prisoners. Chronicle of an Escape is the perfect companion film. I hope they package the two as a box set.

The films follow a minding-his-own-business Argentinian soccer player who is erroneously fingered as a member of a revolutionary guerrilla group. Secret police kidnap him and throw him into a boarded up mansion, where he and more than a dozen other young men are tortured, starved, and prepared for execution. The film was obviously working with a smaller budget than Four Days , and perhaps the characters weren’t as well developed. That was to be expected. When your set is a bare room with rotten beds, production values don’t tend to soar. And when your characters spend the bulk of the movie cowering in corners and wearing blindfolds, well, that’s part of the dehumanization of torture, isn’t it? But really, the interesting thing is that both films revolve around kidnappings and blindfolds, on opposite sides of Argentina’s political war. Which is justified, which is not? That’s the thin grey line.