The Telluride Film Festival is a cruel mistress, never more so than in a year that promised the usual also-rans and refuse from Venice and Toronto. Telluride prides itself on the world premieres that later achieve respectability and industry buzz (Juno and Slumdog Millionaire being most prominent), but more than ever, itÂs just as content to slide through the uneventful and pretend youÂre lucky to be paying for the privilege. I was not in a good mood as I drove into the always breathtaking little mountain town (this is my eighth festival, and the scenery never gets old), largely because the general state of cinema has pushed me to stay away from the theater more than ever. 2009 has been legitimately lethargic and mediocre, but IÂve become so jaded that my usual excitement about the exclusivity of an elite weekend turned to rage before I saddled up for my first queue.
Once again, limited funds ensured that, as an Acme pass holder, I would have to remain joined at the hip with the Chuck Jones Theater in Mountain Village (the best seats in town, but so detached from the action that it may as well be located in Denver), a reality that further limits my scheduling. As expected, the shows I wanted to see were either at ungodly hours (The White Ribbon, all 144 minutes of it, starts at 10:30pm?), or conflicted with other venues. And the TBAÂs, usually a quirky element of the festival that allows for unpredictability and excitement, pissed me off to no end, as I couldnÂt pull the trigger on Sunday without knowing what would play on Monday. And so on and so forth.
I know: Shut the fuck up, you bastard. YouÂre in Telluride, inhaling free beef jerky, breathing clean mountain air, and watching some of the best sunsets on the planet. But hey, IÂm the kind of guy who still rails against nature for the brevity of the male orgasm, so thereÂs no pleasing me. Nevertheless, I offer no apologies for (along with my wife) being the most negative person in any given line. While everyone else gushed, swooned, and beamed, I harshed a hundred buzzes without pause. Telluride continually brings out my dark, unpleasant, inner contrarian, and it has become almost instinctual to piss on the festival parade. Still, how often can one endure unblinking love for the average and the merely decent? Telluride has a knack for bringing out the kind of filmgoers who put the last movie they saw at the top of their list of all-time favorites, and like flies to shit, we always seem to find the aging couple who hate ÂdisturbingÂ and ÂdepressingÂ as much as they love formulaic and phony.
More than ever, 2009Âs edition has proven that my sedentary lifestyle is not all conducive to the frenetic pace of a festival. Unless the film plays at high fucking noon, I seem to stagger from screenings exhausted and bereft, uncertain whether I genuinely dislike the movie or simply remember little else but an initial frown. For now, IÂll assume my fatigue is indifference and a failure to meet my blue-ribbon standards, but thereÂs a clichÃ©-in-waiting that just might apply: IÂm too old for this shit. Then again, no fewer than three films featured central characters betrayed by lovers who harbored secret families (itÂs the new pedophilia), and there are always those confounding short films to deal with. But for every Nic Cage railing at a Labor Day picnic about his Âoveracting,Â there is a coveted sneak preview slot being taken by some Herzog rubbish that bored me to tears with a mere three sentence description. And how, in the same weekend, could I miss a gimme Oscar trivia question and miss running into Helen Mirren by mere seconds? Now sheÂll never know how I really feel about her. And now, the films — some good, some bad, most down that damnable middle of the road.
Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call: New Orleans
Leave it to the irredeemably insane Werner Herzog to submit the most curiously delightful head-scratcher of the festival; a film so appallingly ridiculous on its face that it should come as no surprise that it survives its journey from madness to sublime entertainment fully intact. A crime drama with precious little of either, this in-name-only remake dispenses with the Catholic guilt of its predecessor and instead, embraces the reliably unhinged Nicolas Cage (proving that true genius lies in casting) as a figure of guiltless criminality. As Mr. Cage stated in the filmÂs post-screening Q&A, Herzog approached this glorious wreck not as a study in sin and redemption, but rather the Âglory of evil,Â where a man can — and perhaps, should — use his position of authority to satisfy the darker urges we all share. Cage also informed the crowd that, during a mid-shoot wrap party, Herzog insisted that he would never again make another movie unless Âhis iguanasÂ could remain on screen for a full five minutes, rather than the cutting room floor. Iguanas, you ask? Though best discovered on your own terms and in your own way, rest assured that said creatures not only get their very own lyrical interlude, but are closely photographed by Herzog himself, who can now lay claim to being the first filmmaker on record to score a POV shot from a lizard. ThereÂs also an alligator, as if there were any doubt.
If it matters, and I can assure you that it does not, the plot (like a bad episode of Kojak with a bit of German engineering) involves brutal drug killings in the Crescent City, as well as a beleaguered police force that appears all-too-willing to take matters into its own hands. Xzibit is the kingpin in question, and heÂs just the man youÂd want to gun down an entire household in defense of his turf. He kills, but always with a smile. Cage, channeling Richard III by way of Richard Nixon, mumbles, limps, garbles, and twitches his way through a performance that is technically a character, though its claws simply reattach to a body of work that has yet to inhabit a universe with a molecule of subtlety or shading. Eyebrows fully arched and sweat dripping in epileptic frenzy, CageÂs bad cop interrogates, accuses, probes, bribes, and threatens, all in the ragged pursuit of the next high which, thankfully, is never more than fifteen seconds away. Cage smokes crack, snorts coke, dabbles in heroin, and pops any number of pills, though heÂs so damned inviting that itÂs less a cautionary tale than a masterpiece of comic invention. He even commands a top football recruit to shave a few points for a crucial bet. Not surprisingly, CageÂs mad stomp through this dirty, crime-ridden shithole leads him to a retirement home where, in the pursuit of a justice that long ago left the bayou, he deprives an uncooperative geezer of her oxygen in order to secure information. Needless to say, heÂs also pointing a loaded gun at her caretakerÂs head. Though both survive, he leaves the pair with hateful words so damned agreeable, they just might become a national motto.
CageÂs growling, and the nearly unbroken fit of hilarity that ensues, is matched scene-for-scene by Eva Mendes as a whore/girlfriend, Brad Dourif as a sleazy bookmaker, Val Kilmer as a puffy, amoral cop, and Jennifer Coolidge playing, well, the umpteenth ditzy scumbag in a career where sobriety and sanity long ago ceased being viable options. And make sure you stay tuned for a final act of such preposterous good fortune that it becomes impossible not to conclude that Herzog wants evil itself to triumph, or at least have bad behavior avoid the lash of moral judgment. Simply put, for all of his evidence tampering, theft, denial of civil rights, cruelty, and unlovable depravity, CageÂs bad lieutenant is a man of action; a force of the very nature Herzog worships with muscular abandon. All the better to be promoted for it. And when he stands tall, a captain in full measure, we remember that last, fatal bust where it all came together. ÂShoot him again,Â Cage instructs the drug lord regarding a slimy rival. ÂHis soul is still dancing.Â And just like that, as the bloody corpse receives yet another bullet, the departed oneÂs spirit rises forth, kicks into gear, and yes, dances before us. Breakdances, to be exact. And yet we never question the logic. Crap has rarely been so operatic.
Andrea Arnold is a director at the top of her game. After the magnificent short film Wasp, which was soon followed by the gritty, uncompromising Red Road, she can now be compared to the best of Mike Leigh without apology or risk of overstatement. SheÂs the go-to filmmaker for the hopelessness of BritainÂs still defiantly rigid class system; where a life in the projects guarantees little save the pain and misfortune similarly visited upon mom, dad, grandma, and every generation within earshot. Without sentimentality, false hope, or condescension, Arnold conveys a sense of doom without ever overplaying her hand. These are human beings, yes, and victims to a small degree, but whenever a moment of sympathy creeps in, a profound lack of common sense or poor life choice swings the pendulum back to disgust. Acutely observational in tone, the small community we witness is loud, nasty, and overcrowded, made worse by the vulgarity of the abbreviated educations on display.
Though largely plot-free, Fish Tank is, above all, the coming-of-age tale of 15-year-old Mia, though unlike nearly every effort in this overstuffed genre, no life lessons are learned, and what hope we find comes in the form of a failed audition for a strip club. Mia dreams of dancing her way out of her dreary existence, and though she has drive and desire, she lacks any visible talent. Much screen time is devoted to her routines, the painfully earnest exercises of youthful abandon, yet they are utterly dreadful from top to toe. Throughout this movie, I quietly cheered this brave directorial decision, as weÂre usually expected to believe that our ghettos exist solely to hide reservoirs of untapped potential; unkempt saints denied their just due by the brutal indignities of short-sighted, bigoted gatekeepers. Mia, no plucky heroine, is a feisty, surly, foul-mouthed little bitch, and sheÂll end up just like her bleached tramp of a mother, whatever her efforts.
Sure, there is young love, lust, and pained jealousy, but all evolve from the wellspring of authenticity, not detached idealism. Mia and her sister, for example, are about as close to real siblings weÂre likely to see on film, and there isnÂt a false note to be found in their caustic co-dependency. A new school beckons, but the film tempers its temporary optimism with a closing scene of quiet, depressing power. As the mother sadly gyrates to a driving beat while settling in for yet another booze-soaked, work-free day, both daughters join in her dance. What appears to be an atypical escape from failure and hardship is instead the ultimate representation of how generational pathology is passed along like a virus. IÂve always believed that the boy of ten is the man of forty, and here is no more striking example. These are fiercely unreflective people, ÂworkingÂ class in name only, who will die largely unchanged. And yet they keep trying; carving out small moments of fleeting pleasure that dissipate the precise moment they are acknowledged. ItÂs life as lived, without the Hollywood gloss.
Life During Wartime
Sadly, Todd Solondz has reached the end of the line. HeÂs out of gas, out of ideas, and so beyond even the minimal effort to surprise us that heÂs revisiting old characters for no discernable reason save pure laziness. Using familiar names from both Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, Solondz forgot to bring along the originality and sense of daring that so defined those previous efforts. Now, older and not at all wiser, he is a man cursing the darkness of his own creative bankruptcy. All told, Life During Wartime is a dull, pointless exercise in unmotivated action; where characters walk and talk not according to anything resembling reality, but rather the tired drive to shock the senses in a world that has moved beyond such puerile predictabilities. Far from a gifted voice of the cinema, Solondz now appears to be content as a fringe carnival barker; an irrelevant ÂauteurÂ masturbating to the sound of his own anonymity. His swift decline, via this atrocious spray of mist, was surely one of the most depressing realizations of an already dreary festival.
The pedophile dad from Happiness returns as a different actor (theyÂre all played by new faces, actually), only this time he hasnÂt a thing to occupy his time. Even a hotel bar seduction with Charlotte Rampling, surely a scenario that oozes with dark comic possibility, is horribly wasted and awkwardly staged. The scene almost plays like lost footage from another movie. His ex-wife, Trish (Alison Janney), is trying to move on, but Solondz has found the least interesting manner possible of doing so. And Joy, the sad sack sister, is back and as pathetic as before, but now sheÂs resorting to imaginary conversations with a dead boyfriend, endless scenes that are overlong even when measured in mere seconds. Jokes are strained, story turns fall flat, and all thatÂs left is the arrogant assumption that we should care because weÂve heard these names before under far better circumstances. Though topical satire withers on the vine with cruel rapidity, such pointed commentary still would have been better than this toothless chamber of horrors that all but ignores the genuine madness happening right outside its cloistered walls.
After all these years, itÂs good to see that penitentiaries remain dank laboratories of rape-fueled showers, random throat-slashings, and cigarette-heavy bribery for small favors. Pity, though, that the lesbian guards have the gone the way of the daring, midnight escapes via the laundry carts. All of these sigh-filled familiarities clog the arteries of A Prophet, a film that damn near stole away this past yearÂs Palme dÂOr, despite often playing like a bad marriage between Midnight Express, American Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and any number of movies featuring Paul Muni. Though well-crafted and superbly acted, the filmÂs criminal over-length (150 minutes that passed like hours), combined with the moth-eaten story of a young innocent who learns the jailhouse ropes from a ruthless mentor, sentences the enterprise to the cure-for-insomnia bin. Stupidly, I endured this ass-numbing exercise first thing in the morning, which means my boredom was exceeded only by the drool that rolled in thick waves from my gaping maw. IÂm not saying that the world didnÂt need another reminder that prison is quite possibly the most dangerous place on planet earth, but surely the silver screen could have pounded home the same trite message in a quick flurry of images over a coffee break, rather than a large chunk of my very busy day. I had no idea the programÂs description of ÂKafkaesqueÂ also applied to the audience.
Inside this particular French prison, there are the Corsicans, an aging, though still-powerful gang that clings to old traditions, such as tapping new recruits to gut stool pigeons like theyÂre being prepped for ThursdayÂs meatloaf. Malik, the wide-eyed innocent in question (so innocent that heÂs received a lengthy prison sentence for, IÂm assuming, failing to bring in his overdue library books), complies with this violent request, though only after much soul-searching. Unfortunately, itÂs also a murder that saddles the poor boy with the victimÂs yammering ghost for the better part of the picture. Competing with the Corsicans for control are the Arab gangs, equally ruthless upstarts who appear to have forgotten the chain of command that exists in such subcultures. It is here, with the inclusion of the Muslim population, where the film generates some much-needed heat, as MalikÂs meteoric rise appears to mirror FranceÂs own struggle with non-assimilating immigrants. MalikÂs eventual triumph (and release) may in fact signal the directorÂs shrugging sense of resignation, but it could just as easily be a warning for a fractured nation on the edge of disaster. Regardless of the larger implications, thereÂs little here I havenÂt seen before.
Audrey HepburnÂs Holly Golightly ruined the world in any number of ways, the most obvious being her malodorous life lessons for budding young women everywhere; primarily, that one can sip champagne, visit Paris, and navel gaze as a matter of course, rather than as temporary breaks in the tedium of living. ThereÂs nothing that a good hat or fashionable pair of sunglasses canÂt cure, and for Jenny (Carey Mulligan), they are both worth the trade for a top education at Oxford. Jenny is almost obscenely bright and clever for her age (I doubt America has ever had such girls about), and though it is 1961, sheÂll be damned if antiquated ways are going to hold her back from a rich, fulfilling, independent life. SheÂs a top student, loves the written word, and has enough pluck for a dozen heroines; sheÂs more Portrait of the Idealist as a Young Woman than your average teenager. The world is for the taking, and ideas, purity, romance, and love are, expectedly, all that matter. Needless to say, sheÂs also an obnoxious little sot, and once she meets a much older, more sophisticated man, sheÂs more than willing to get married and become what she presumably hates.
Of course, the man (Peter Sarsgaard) is nothing like her father, which means he earns his bread through theft and chicanery instead of hard work, which can be more than justified by being in direct contrast to bourgeois boredom. As a couple, they travel, eat like kings, and exchange witty banter in hip jazz clubs, though itÂs only a matter of time before the other shoe drops and Jenny is made the fool. She deserves the comeuppance, of course, and I cheered her cruel dismissal as she attempted to crawl back into the good graces of those she so casually cast aside during her wild ride of good fortune. Unfortunately, the movie (based on one of those ubiquitous memoirs that may or may not contain an ounce of truth) rewards her in the end for her foul deeds, when we all know that such women usually live out the nightmare of their own creation, regretting their naivetÃ© until the grave beckons. In the end, I never believed JennyÂs affectations were anything other than a means by which to set herself apart from her parents; mere pretensions to garner the attention she so desperately craved. Like so many smart girls, sheÂs all-too-willing to put away her books for the first gent to take her dancing.
Make Way for Tomorrow
It seems fitting that the best film playing in Telluride over the Labor Day weekend would be from 1937, rather than the gray, depressing present. Even better, itÂs currently unavailable on home video in any format, making the screening an exclusive, must-see event. Adding to the charm is the fact that the film is from Alexander PayneÂs private stash; a surprisingly undamaged print he acquired from eBay for the princely sum of six dollars. That aside, the movie just happens to be an unsung classic, the sort of film that can hold court with the best of Ozu in terms of emotional heft and depth of humanity. Appropriately, this film inspired nothing less than Tokyo Story, and it does not suffer for the comparison. Orson Welles once said of Make Way for Tomorrow that Âit would make a stone cry,Â and the results demonstrate his lack of exaggeration. ItÂs about acceptance and loss, aging and death, but at its core, it begs for living life beyond oneÂs role as a parent. Though likely unintended, this is the best argument yet for staying the hell away from cribs and diapers and taking a vacation instead. At the very least, donÂt wait fifty years to revisit old memories.
Leo McCareyÂs direction is as surefooted as ever, and the performances — especially those of the unwanted, burdensome parents (played flawlessly by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) — are surprisingly nuanced for the time, and the authenticity is secured right down to the final scene, which avoids the expected turn for the better. In fact, the final images at the train station are shattering, if only because they so violate the norms of American cinema, then and now. Movies are usually about hope and opportunity, or the next best thing around the corner, so imagine the shock at finding one over 70 years old that provides no comfort, and offers no quarter. Yes, the children are nasty and selfish, but what they decide is far from unreasonable. Life should go on, and each generation must surely pass the torch. And of course, the parents are irritating and frustrating, but do they not deserve honesty and respect, or at least a quiet, dignified end for lives well-lived? Thankfully, the film never offers answers or asks for clear lines between heroes and villains, nor does it wallow in cheap sentiment. There is humor and charm to spare, and a warmth not from decency winning out over evil, but that of a job well done.
No film about terrorism in the modern age has any right to succeed, if only because the political undertones are bound to be oversimplified and shouted at the top of their lungs. Thankfully, we have London River, a quiet, understated film that avoids politics altogether and instead focuses on loss at the personal level. If I were to tell you that the two characters at the center of the movie were a vaguely bigoted widow from Guernsey (Brenda Blethyn), and a solemn, rail-thin African Muslim from Paris (Sotigui Kouyate), you could practically submit your own appalled objection. Do they break down racial and ethnic barriers and share a hug for all mankind? Do they screech and pontificate and see the error of their ways? Not really is the best I can offer, but rest assured that sentiment remains far in the distance this time around, and though these two parents, both of whom are searching for their missing children in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings, do approach a tentative, uncertain bond, they are more opportunists in need of temporary crutches for their grief.
More than a story of tragedy and desperation, however, is the fact that in their own way, both the mother and the father in turn have never really known their children. The realization that each will never see their kids again is painful in any context, but more so because no opportunities will ever again exist for bridging the divide. Sure, it seems cutesy and convenient that the two kids were involved with each other, killed on the same bus because they were taking a trip to France, but from scattered clues, it seems quite possible that the privileged white girl was having that obligatory affair with a minority group to, in whatever manner left to her, strike back at her mother. Even the girlÂs flirtation with Arabic lessons and the like demonstrates that irritating youthful indulgence with the Other that is bound to fade with adult responsibility and the crush of the real world. Mom may one day come to see that herself, once the shock of loss yields to numbing routine. Still, any film that tackles something so topical without speechifying must receive something slightly more than a muted endorsement.
Here, at last, is the story of Ida Dalser, a young Italian woman who claimed to have had MussoliniÂs son before his ignoble rise to power, only to be declared insane, sent to a mental hospital, and thrown in a pauperÂs grave upon expiration. I say Âat lastÂ in jest, of course, because thereÂs no way in hell this is coming to a theater near you, though such news is, as you would expect, not even remotely tragic. Even if true, IÂm not sure we can blame Il Duce for denying the marriage and birth, largely because running a chaotic empire in the midst of depression and war seems a tad more important than the self-involved ravings of a woman scorned. Think about it: a man like Mussolini obviously has the drive and ambition of a hundred men, and with that comes an unquenchable passion. I hate to tell you, lady, but Benito likely has dozens of children cluttering up Italy, and IÂm not sure itÂs in the nationÂs interest to have them all move into the presidential palace. You were once a great love, but heÂs, like, dictator now, so admit your lies and put the brutal nuns of institutional life behind you.
Despite some truly gorgeous cinematography and gripping sequences, the whole adds up to very little, as Mussolini disappears completely after an hour, so that the womanÂs tale can receive full focus. We see Il Duce through newsreels and the like, which is unfortunate, as itÂs his story that holds all the interest. His rise to power, as expected, is oversimplified to the point of high comedy, as one day heÂs standing naked on a hotel balcony as the dark streets fill with noise, while the next heÂs in the charge of the whole damn enterprise. Bizarre on-screen words and an overbearing musical score donÂt help, and the story seems to turn on granting this woman a sympathy she may not have earned. Were mental institutions a means by which to control outspoken, independent women? Most assuredly, but they also housed the genuinely insane, and Ida just might have been yet another starstruck groupie who attached herself to a rising star because her own was fading in the mist. In any case, a long and routine effort that may occupy an evening, but wonÂt register beyond its one and only viewing.
The White Ribbon
Michael HanekeÂs film was the most anticipated of the festival, which only goes to show that outsized expectations are the greatest curse to befall a moviegoer. While a good film overall, and one that features a host of spectacular scenes, it fell short of the anticipated masterpiece, so the tears I cry are for the failure of initial impression. I fully expect to revisit the movie, if only to flesh out a more considered opinion, but at first blush, the lush black and white cinematography and somber tone, while creepily effective, supported a meandering pace that often frustrated, rather than yielding to rapture. Haneke respects the audience enough to avoid capital letters and bold underlines, but the crippling over length and shifting perspectives helped maintain an unfortunate level of detachment. Dry and muted are usually preferred, but they can become dull if one isnÂt careful. That said, itÂs always appreciated to have a movie about Germany before the Nazis, and even in advance of World War I, if only to remind viewers that savagery was not always expressed, and once needed a suitable environment in which to grow.
Perhaps HanekeÂs conceit — that the Germany of 1913 can be mined for ÂsignsÂ of impending doom — is best enjoyed at the theoretical level, and that as discussed in story form, the results could only hope to be mixed. After all, a weak screenplay would be far too obvious with the horrors to come, forcing slow-witted viewers to point out the heavy-handed imagery. So, thankfully, there are no Hitler stand-ins, nor are there metaphorical gas chambers, and the lurking anti-Semitism is even pushed aside for more subtle investigations of rural German culture. The farming village in question is quiet and seemingly gentle, but bizarre acts of violence suddenly break out without explanation, forcing villagers to confront their own natures. Only they do little self-examination, and the crimes go wonderfully unsolved. Are these acts of cruelty from without? Within? Perhaps supernatural? Though the children — the generation that would sweep the Nazi regime to power with little objection — are the likely culprit, itÂs best that we learn very little regarding victims and perpetrators.
The Âwhite ribbonÂ of the title refers to a reminder a moderately cruel father (and pastor) ties to the arms of his children concerning their responsibilities as Âthe innocent.Â Behavior, then, follows not as an instinctive drive for goodness, but rather an arbitrary symbol of the punishment to follow if certain rules and regulations are violated. Haneke is surely not suggesting that the German children who were treated poorly readily embraced global war and the Holocaust as natural responses to punishment, so I must conclude that he is instead suggesting that in the absence of genuine, unprompted morality, murder and totalitarianism will follow. But as this is hardly unique to the soil of pre-war Germany, it seems a rather dubious conclusion. Perhaps itÂs best to approach The White Ribbon as a cautionary tale; not necessarily that there are handy road maps for evil, but rather that the more bucolic the setting, the more seemingly tranquil the populace, the more receptive such minds are for the ever-feeding forces of self-destruction.
Up in the Air
ThereÂs a certain satisfaction that comes from being the first audience on the entire planet to see a movie, but it inevitably means far less when weÂre talking about a Jason Reitman production. After all, this is the same man who set Juno loose upon an unsuspecting world, though my negative review appears to be one of only a handful to be found. TellurideÂs faithful are especially enamored with it, and if any one statement dominated the endless queues of the weekendÂs events, it was, ÂI liked it, but it was no Juno.Â You are correct, madam or sir, and thatÂs about the best bit of news concerning this decidedly commercial enterprise. Up in the Air is, at bottom, a creature of mainstream moviemaking, and while limiting in terms of payoff, IÂm here to say that itÂs not all bad. In fact, I pretty much enjoyed the thing, much to my surprise. Of course, as I expected to loathe its very existence, modest entertainment was more than I had any right to expect. George Clooney tones down the smugness for once, and is all the better for it, and the story, while too redemptive by half, manages to traffic in adult situations and topical relevance with precious little by way of, well, preciousness. Reitman would do right to stay away from Diablo Cody from here on out.
Clooney portrays Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man of more recent vintage; the anti-headhunter who visits downsizing companies across the country to lay off the unsuspecting with what he believes is tact and sympathy. Essentially, he stands in for gutless managers and CEOs who canÂt do their own dirty work. The visits are scripted down to the letter, and are so sterile (they involve handbooks on coping with the post-layoff depression, for godÂs sake) that they practically run themselves. But Clooney is proud of his work, as he provides a human face to a very inhuman moment in the lives of so many. Along with that central thrust are two side stories: ClooneyÂs relentless pursuit of his ten-millionth frequent flier mile, and the introduction of a corporate upstart who threatens to take the business into a new age of Âvideo conferencing,Â which pretty much entails eliminating all the travel to fire people via the internet. With that, the story is off and running, though it wonÂt be inviting comparisons with Bergman anytime soon.
We also know that ClooneyÂs Âgo it aloneÂ philosophy will be challenged by a fellow traveler who becomes more than a port in the storm, and that her Âreal lifeÂ will present new obstacles, etc. Also, no prizes for guessing that his motivational speeches, used primarily to supplement his income (as well as provide an excuse to keep him on the road even more), will be thrown into disarray by this unexpected attachment, and if you were toÂ assume that a third-act seminarÂ will beÂ interrupted by the standard Âmoment of clarityÂ (which by necessity must include leaving the podium and making a mad dash to the airport), you would not be going out too far on the proverbial limb. Again, all pretty much by the book. But itÂs well-made, engaging, and for once, despite some definite compromises, the lead character stays nestled in his self-imposed cocoon during the closing credits. Sure, he craves connection, but heÂs not really cut out for the daily grind of holding down the homefront. A small victory, perhaps, but enough to warrant a recommendation.