MICHAEL CLAYTON * * *
Cert 15, 119 mins
Having reinvigorated the spy drama by penning all three of the Bourne movies, screenwriter Tony Gilroy now takes up the director's hat to have a crack at doing the same for the legal thriller.
The eponymous Clayton (George Clooney), resident 'fixer' at a leading New York law firm, is charged with cleaning up the mess when their manic-depressive top litigator (Tom Wilkinson) has an apparent breakdown while defending an agrochemical company in a multi million dollar class action suit and switches sides to the plaintiffs just prior to a financially acceptable out-of-court settlement.
Having never have had a problem cleaning up clients' messes, burying damaging stories and making hit-and-run cases disappear, an increasingly burned-out Clayton now finds himself experiencing self-awakening on discovering the company they're representing was responsible for fatal toxic poisoning and the subsequent cover up.
Called to question what he does for a living, he becomes more committed to readjusting his moral compass when their icy in-house counsel, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) brings in a couple of shady characters for some permanent cleaning up of her own.
On top of which, he's also having to deal with a gambling habit, failed business enter-prise, pressing heavy debts, an alcoholic brother, dying father, ex-wife and a neglected young son.
Harking back to the David and Goliath conspiracy dramas of the 70s and largely unfolding as flashbacks, to be honest some of it's an uneven mess, baffling moments such as Clayton stopping his car to go and look at horses on a hillside suggesting footage been lost in the editing room.
Even so, with Clooney in Syriana form giving one of the best, most challenging performances of his career and sterling support work from Swinton, Wilkinson and, as the conflicted boss of Clayton's firm, Sidney Pollack, it's also a grippingly intriguing ride to redemption, mining the zeitgeist mistrust of monolithic corporations all the way to its crowd-pleasing climax.
THE BRAVE ONE * * *
Cert 18, 122 mins
If there's one thing you can rely on with a Neil Jordan film it's that, while the genre may be familiar, his treatment of it won't be. And so it again proves here as he tackles the vigilante thriller. Except, unlike Death Wish, Death Sentence and the like, he focuses not on the killings but on the emotional and psychological motivations of and effects on the one carrying them out.
It helps immensely that the finger on the trigger belongs to Jodie Foster, her raspy voiced, raw-to-the-bone performance once more proving her the finest actress of her generation. She's Erica Bain, a talk jock for a New York radio station whose programme is essentially her monologues about "the safest big city in the world".
Then, one night, she and her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews) are walking the dog in Central Park when they're attacked by three thugs who beat him to death and leave her in a three week coma.
How do you get over that, she's later asked? Her answer is that you don't. You become someone else. In Erica's case the stranger in the mirror is a woman who, traumatised by grief and frustrated at becoming just another crime statistic, is afraid to walk the streets she once loved.
For security she impulsively buys an illegal gun. In a grocery store, she's witness to a man blowing away his estranged wife. To save her own life, she shoots the guy. And walks away, somehow feeling a sense of catharsis.
Later, alone on a subway train, she's menaced by two hoodlums. One takes a knife to her. She shoots them both. This time she's perfectly calm. What intrigues her is that her hands don't shake. When she meets Sean Mercer (a soulful Terrence Howard), the compassionate, crusading cop who's in charge of finding this mysterious vigilante, she asks if he's ever shot anyone. Did his hands shake? No, he says. Because he's on the side of right.
Is Erica on the side of right when she kills a pimp or takes out a high profile gangster the cops can't touch? Has she become a distaff Travis Bickle ridding New York's streets of the sickness of crime or is she an addict plagued by inner demons trying to numb her own emptiness?
Feeding on a thick sense of urban paranoia and fear, at least in part fuelled by 9/11, the film mines the rich dark seam of moral ambivalence embodied in the opinions of those who call her on air. And what of Mercer? A thoughtful, straight arrow cop, burned by a bad divorce, feeling the frustrations of being tied by the law, but certain that he could take down someone he was close to because it would be his duty. Someone like Erica whom, he gradually becomes more convinced, is the one he's chasing.
It is flawed. There's continuity hiccups, implausibilities (would any radio station seeking ratings broadcast Erica's show on drive time?) and too many coincidences. Mary Steenburgen's under used as the unsympathetic station boss and Carmen Ejogo feels a contrivance as the neighbour with the wisdom of experience to impart. The ending too feels a little compromised, although by then it's hard to imagine empathising audiences would go for a different conclusion.
But it undeniably stokes up the psychological suspense to intelligently entertaining and suspenseful effect, provocative in its
themes and arguments while never feeding pat answers to the questions it raises about our primal instincts and the fall out they engender.
KENNY * * *
Cert 15, 104 mins
If you ever saw the Glastonbury documentary, one of the most, er, memorable images was of the team cleaning out the portable toilets. But have you ever given any thought to what life must be like for those whose job it is? And what type of person does it take to do it?
It obviously crossed the mind of Australian writer-director Clayton Jacobson whose dry humoured mockumentary follows the life of eponymous effluent operative (played by brother Shane) of Melbourne firm Splashdown. It's the This Is Spinal Tap of Portaloos.
It's a dirty job, but big teddy bear Kenny takes pride in his work, even though it's cost him his marriage and both his grouchy father (Ronald Jacobson) and upwardly mobile brother (Clayton) treat him with revulsion. But, forever togged out in his company overalls, he's well liked by his oddball colleagues and much loved by his admiring young son (Jesse Jacobson).
Adopting a fly on the cubicle wall approach, the film follows Kenny as he goes about his business cleaning up after everybody else's, arranging toilets for festivals, conventions, sporting events and the like, advising
prospective clients that serving curry will cost more, lending a sympathetic ear to workmates' problems, and good-naturedly dealing with such surprises as the handcuffed, naked result of a stag night.
Eternal optimist Kenny talks to camera, offering his personal philosophy on life, poo, the toilet trade and keeping his temper around difficult customers.
When he's offered the chance to represent the company at the International Pumper and Cleaner Expo in Nashville, he also finds unexpected romance and the opportunity to take a step up the corporate ladder; from dunny to desk.
Sustaining the deadpan joke throughout with its honest to god toilet humour, the film's an affectionate love letter to the self-pride of the working man. It's also very funny and genuinely touching with Kenny an immensely likeable character whose company you want to share longer. It'll leave you with warm flush.
TOUGH ENOUGH * * *
Cert 15, 98 mins - subtitled
A grim, blackly humoured, downbeat slice of life from German director Detlev Buck, this may be well made and acted but it makes for pretty depressing viewing.
Relocated from a cushy life to the rough, run down neighbourhood of eastern Berlin's immigrant district when his trashy mom's wealthy lover throws them out, teenager Michael (David Kross) quickly becomes the target of local bully Erol (Oktay Ozdemir), demanding money with menaces.
With Miriam (Jenny Elvers-Elbertzhagen) too busy rearranging her love life to take much notice, Michael pals up with a couple of streetwise but equally abused brothers. Seeking revenge on mom's ex, he enlists them for a spot of burglary which earns them some cash but also attracts the attention of Gerber (Hans Loew), a kindly cop who takes a shine to Miriam.
He also comes to the notice of a bunch of Turkish drug dealers who take him under their wing, warning off Erol and employing Michael as their delivery boy and bagman. However, when Erol seeks payback and a stash of drugs money goes missing, Michael finds himself faced with an impossible choice if he's to survive.
Well acted, grittily captured on camera and resolutely uncompromising, suffice to say, there's no Hollywood ending.
HOT ROD * *
Cert 12A, 88 mins
Originally intended as a Will Ferrell vehicle, but now starring Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg (a sort of young Travolta with the smile of a camel), this comedy about inept wannabe stuntman Rod Kimble is basically Talladega Nights on a moped spliced with Napoleon Dynamite and more than a touch of Airplane's non-sequitur humour.
A pleasant change from the current rash of teen comedies, there's no vulgarity, no gross-ing out and barely any swearing. Which pretty much guarantees box office death.
Desperate to live up to his dead stuntman dad's legend, Rod also wants to earn the respect of stepdad Frank (a hammy Ian McShane), something he'll only give if he proves himself a man and beats him in a fight. Frank being a well-trained veteran, and Rod a skinny wimp, this seems unlikely.
But then it's revealed Frank needs a heart transplant or he'll die. And since Rod can't allow that to happen until he's whupped his ass, he hits on the idea of raising the $50,000 by staging a death defying leap across 15 buses. Given Rod can't jump over a trash can without falling, he's got his work cut out.
Fortunately, he's got loyal if rather dim chums Dave (Bill Hader), Rico (Danny McBride) and half-brother Kevin (Jorna Tac-cone) to help with the training. Naturally, that and a series of fund-raising stunts go inevitably wrong.
Yet Rod remains doggedly resilient and optimistic; at least until romantic interest girl next door Denise (Isla Fisher) introduces him to her jerk lawyer boyfriend (Will Arnett), Kevin's stuntman documentary makes him a laughing stock, and mom (Sissy Spacek) reveals a secret about his father.
It's amiably amusing and, maybe because it's written by a woman, it has its heart in the right place. There's something sweetly touching about these self-deluded losers who refuse to accept their limitations, scraping little victories in the face of mocking laughter.