The Bourne Legacy (Gilroy, 2012)

One moment of quiet solitude stands out amongst all the kinetic action sequences and globetrotting theatrics that have defined the Jason Bourne trilogy up to this point: a man’s lifeless body floats in the ocean, captured in low angle by a submerged camera and backlit by brilliant moonlight. It’s a shot that represents the fragility of this nimble and powerful character, who so often seems superhuman. The Bourne Legacy, the fourth installment in the series, begins with this very same pictorial, except the image feels frozen in time, even more somber and poetic. As if to linger on the franchise’s past before sending it in a new direction, director Tony Gilroy (who has had a hand in scripting each Bourne) references the seemingly lifeless body before revealing it to be very much alive, a shirtless swimmer in mid-stroke.

Full review at Critic Speak.

Duplicity (Gilroy, 2009)

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Deconstruction of Hollywood archetypes or glorification of cinema as complete artificiality? Tony Gilroy’s breakneck spy comedy Duplicity has elements of both, reveling in Julia Roberts and Clive Owen’s star personas only to pull the rug out from under their rouse with one last twist of disturbing comeuppance. The film continuously uses flashy dialogue and flashbacks to mask its one-dimensional characters as they traverse a combustible and unflinching corporate space, forcing a sense of simple confusion and debauchery on the entire proceedings. It’s a stark grey world of perception, manipulation, and expectation, where everyone is culpable no matter their pay grade or ambivalence.

Duplicity contains an intrinsic charm, as Roberts and Owen share a wonderful sense of chemistry and timing. But Gilroy’s rehashing of themes from Michael Clayton (greed, corporate treachery) feel tired and out of place within this specific mixture of tones, even as he skewers some truly deserving targets and avoids any resemblance of a happy ending. Most problematic is how stylistically Duplicity treads heavily into Steven Soderbergh territory, from the extensive use of steady-cam tracking shots down to the romantic sprinkles of background light. Some scenes in particular seem to be plucked directly from Out of Sight and the Ocean’s Trilogy.

Tony Gilroy is an obviously talented writer, but wears certain thematic obsessions too clearly on his sleeve, leaving little for the audience to discover or feel even as these films brilliantly flutter off the screen. Duplicity cleverly plays with our expectations about narrative convention and genre, but in the end, its confidence game lacks any lasting substance and depth.

Michael Clayton (Gilroy, 2007)

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It’s the season for passion projects from Hollywood directors with such films as James Gray’s We Own the Night, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James… and Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton gracing the silver screen. Each piece took their respective filmmakers many years to develop and produce and all three somewhat live up to their special billing.

But Michael Clayton remains an oddity amongst this group since it doesn’t display any artistic indulgence or reflection- just plain old classic storytelling. Writer/director Gilroy (who wrote the Jason Bourne films and a host of other mainstream fare), takes a page out of the Soderbergh/Clooney playbook in both style and grace, but the story of Michael Clayton is all his and incredibly personal. The way each character is introduced, established, and moved represents a close attention to character detail, not as Hollywood emotion hounds but as people immersed in this particular story. Gilroy opens with a haunting monologue voiced by Tom Wilkinson’s character Arthur Eden, a high powered attorney who’s just found religion, and his striking words will ring loudly throughout. Arthur and his team have been representing U North, a corrupt farming corporation fighting a class action lawsuit against small scale farmers in Minnesota for the last six years and in a drastic turn of events, shifted his loyalties because of a guilty conscience. Eden’s firm sends in Michael Clayton (Clooney), a janitor of sorts to clean up the media mess and internal strife. U North sends in it’s litigator, the devastating Tilda Swinton, as a counter-punch, and the two take off on separate paths in dealing with the conflicting situation. The table is set for a highly intelligent screenplay to take over, moving from scene to scene with suspenseful fervor, seamlessly incorporating a feeling of ethical mortality throughout.

Michael Clayton isn’t the type of film that’s going to blow you away with flash, just it’s mastery of the medium. The images by Robert Elswitt, the amazing sound design and score, and Gilroy’s perfect execution on all levels (especially his script) make this the best classical Hollywood film in years, and that’s saying something. Michael Clayton might be simple in name, but the mesmerizing process of this man and his morals keeps faith alive for all of us wishing mainstream cinema would captivate more often.