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Tag: George Clooney

Patrimony

I was misled about The Descendants, Alexander Payne’s critically-acclaimed release of 2011. It was represented as a tragi-comic film about family dysfunction– the typical clueless dad and rebellious daughters– but it’s really a sort of  ethical examination of the ties between people and places, between generations in a particular location. That makes the title, which baffled me, more coherent. The one-sentence summary of the film might go like this, then: Matt King, a wealthy Hawaiian landowner, struggles to figure out the significance of his family’s ties to the land and each other, ultimately realizing that he had taken both for granted.

[youtube http://youtu.be/4aYQ7kHKDfU]

 

Payne is a moralist and George Clooney turns in a remarkable performance as Matt King, an everyman who behaves badly but has a stubborn core of decency. Much is made of the film’s driving plot device: Matt’s discovery that his dying wife had been having an affair and his insistence on finding the man. Clooney allows himself to look ridiculous as he fumbles one interaction after another. Early in the film (see above) he is a comic figure, easily trounced by his precocious children, but he grows into the quiet dignity shown in the last scene (below). With the mother gone, the new family of three sit on a couch facing us, watching a film as we watch them. Payne couldn’t be clearer here that we are supposed to identify with this family and learn from their experience. The film they watch was inaudible when I saw the movie but this clip makes Payne’s last dry point clear: The March of the Penguins is also about paternal caretaking and the existential struggle to provide for the next generation. When Matt and his eldest daughter gaze upon their family patrimony of prime Hawaiian coastline and reminisce about camping there, the youngest daughter pipes up “what about me? where will I camp?” Matt had thought of that land as being something his ancestors had given him, without realizing that he was an important link in the chain between past and future. Matt gradually assumes an active role in his complex ecosystem, and the simple sharing of ice cream and blanket in the last image becomes symbolic of moral and emotional growth.

[youtube http://youtu.be/D4EzuU41lm8]

Slow and Steady

Focus Features, 2010.

The customer reviews on Amazon for The American (Corbijn, 2010) are wildly polarized. Half of its viewers give it one star and call it “slow” and “booooring!” The other half love it and compare it to classic French film. Roger Ebert put it on his best of 2010 list, though critics mostly overlooked it. Intrigued?

The movie is indeed slow. Although it has a thriller plot (assassin is forced to lie low in a picturesque spot while his enemies hunt him down) and a few action sequences, the film moves at a deliberate, cautious pace that matches the extreme self-control of its hero, played by George Clooney. This clip captures some of the pacing and tight focus that the director Anton Corbijn uses to turn what could have been standard Hollywood fare into something visually and structurally interesting. It’s a small scene, but it carries weight, as the ending will reveal. “Jack,” played with admirable understatement by Clooney, is so tightly wound, so unrelentingly professional that his smallest human gesture seems momentous. The screenplay by Rowan Joffe shows this off nicely, with the barest minimum of dialogue.

The shots are just as carefully composed as the story and performances. The film begins with a broad panorama of a snowy Swedish landscape. The camera moves gradually toward a house under the trees and establishes its ground rules: no fast cutting, no hand held cameras, long takes. There are some wonderful moments of editing too — like one where a killing takes place during a cut, in the gap between shots. This is visual storytelling at its best: elegant, spare, and surprising. The American will find its audience slowly but surely.