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Volume 77, Number 20 | October 17 - 23, 2007

Koch On Film

By Ed Koch

“Into the Wild” (+)

This film, based on the nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer, was written and directed by Sean Penn. It is the story of a young man in his early twenties, Chris (Emile Hirsch), seeking to find the meaning of life.  

Chris is from a dysfunctional family, which includes his sister, Carine (Jena Malone), his mother, Billie (Marcia Gay Harden), and his father, Walt (William Hurt), who was violent toward Chris’ mother. After graduating from Emory University, Chris travels by car throughout the southwest with the ultimate goal of going to Alaska. He kept a diary in which he wrote of the places he visited and the people he met. Some of the individuals we are introduced to include Wayne (Vince Vaughn), a farmer in South Dakota, Ron (Hal Holbrook), an older, retired man in the California desert, and the hippie couple, Rainey (Brian Dierker) and Jan (Catherine Keener).       

Chris eventually abandons his car and seeks to live off the land in Alaska. He uses a rifle to shoot animals for food but carries no other provisions into the wilderness. It becomes apparent that he is ill-equipped for this type of journey and that his expedition could have a tragic ending. Throughout the movie we hear the voice of Chris’ sister, Carine, reporting on the fact that his family has not heard from him and that they are very concerned.

The film contains beautiful scenes of the country, in particular Chris’ trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Although there are some tedious scenes, Sean Penn deserves enormous credit for taking on the challenge of making this difficult film. Chris leaves a final message in his diary describing what life is all about. Regrettably, he did not apply that thought to his own life.

“Michael Clayton” (+)

This film is a tour de force for George Clooney who plays the principal role of Michael Clayton.

Clayton is a well-dressed, intelligent, sleazy attorney working for a corrupt law firm representing an agrichemical company involved in a multibillion-dollar class action lawsuit. He is the firm fixer and demonstrates his role as such in several matters assigned to him by the firm. Clayton is candid in his comments, even those directed at himself, and is an immensely likeable guy. He displays the propensity for both good and evil and acts out both aspects of his character.   

Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) is the firm’s attorney in charge of defending the client, and Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) is the head of the law firm to whom Clayton reports directly. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is an in-house corporate counsel for the company being sued. She is tough and without scruples.

The lawsuit takes a bizarre turn when the bipolar Arthur stops taking his medication and goes berserk. While engaged in an examination at the courthouse before the trial, he removes his clothing. Michael is assigned to bring Arthur under control. Using telephone taps, the firm learns that Arthur is engaged in activities that appear to violate his obligations to protect his corporate client.

The movie contains several subplots. Michael is an addicted high-stakes gambler who owes the mob $80,000. He is warned that if he doesn’t pay his debt within one week, he will be killed. A small amount of time is devoted to Michael’s relationship with his son, who lives with his mother from whom Michael is divorced.   

The script, like that of “Syriana” in which Clooney starred, is murky and sometimes absurd in its logic. Nevertheless, it is always riveting, and it is aided by an excellent musical score. “Michael Clayton” is the movie to see this week.

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