TV Films of the Week

TV Films of the Week 5

Film of the week: Michael Clayton, BBC1, Wednesday May 1, 11:05pm

Let’s face it: most mainstream movies made today are pretty stupid. They estimate their audiences’ capacity for abstract thought as little to non-existent and set phasers to dumb. Michael Clayton, a thriller of such acute perfection that you would be forgiven for wondering how it escaped Hollywood’s stultifying grasp, may well be the antidote.

Written and directed by Tony Gilroy, the man who penned all four Bourne films, it us takes into the same class action lawsuit territory seen in Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brokovich. But where that had Julia Roberts as the plucky amateur taking an insidious corporation to task through the courts, Micheal Clayton has George Clooney’s eponymous protagonist as an attorney very much au fait with the conspiracies he is employed to conceal.

The Handsome One has never been finer, inhabiting a damned soul whose exterior charm conceals much inner torment, as it becomes apparent that his role as a corporate fixer may leave him marked with the indelible stain of immorality. There are no monsters to be seen here, just the sort of corrupt, desperate and flawed characters that, post-2008 crash, everyone can believe exist in the corridors of big business.

There are no spectacular set-pieces or stupendous feats of physical exertion either – this is a film that ties itself firmly to the limitations of genuine human experience. Yet somehow Michael Clayton manages to be infinitely more gripping than 99 per cent of the over-inflated, over-hyped and over-produced twaddle that clutters our screens. For that, everyone involved should be applauded to the rafters.

Set the recorder for:

Manhunter, ITV4, Friday May 3, 9pm

Before Anthony Hopkins’ deliciously over the top Hannibal Lecter, everyone’s favourite cerebral cannibal was played with panache by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s visceral Manhunter. The original (and best) adaptation of Red Dragon, the first of author Thomas Harris’s series of novels featuring Lecter, it was actually a box office flop when it was released. The film has since been more favourably re-evaluated, thanks in part to top-notch performances from William Petersen, who went on to find fame in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (which itself owes Manhunter a debt of gratitude) and Tom Noonan as the terrifying ‘Tooth Fairy’ serial killer.

30 Days of Night, Film4, Saturday May 4, 11:40pm

Although David Slade, director of vampire film 30 Days of Night, went on to helm The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the difference between the two could not be more pronounced. While the latter is definitely ‘vampire-lite’, the former is a masterclass in building dread and then sustaining horror in a way that is almost uncomfortably tangible. The vampires of 30 Days of Night are inscrutable; a sweeping force of death that simply want to destroy what they regard as an inferior species. Sam Raimi, acting as the film’s producer, described it as “so unlike the horror films of recent yearsâ€?. He wasn’t wrong, for all the right reasons.

Burn After Reading, ITV4, Sunday May 5, 10pm

Further proof that there is nothing the Coen brothers are incapable of, Burn After Reading assembles a cast of some the most despicable characters you could think of and ceates a caper so compelling you’ll feel dirty for wanting to keep watching. That its gallery of rogues are played by some of Hollywood’s biggest names – Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and George Clooney – is also testament to the Coen’s wicked talent for flying in the face of convention. It was moronically marketed in the UK as a ‘laugh out loud comedy’, but make no mistake, Burn After Reading is a savagely brilliant study of human nature at its most pathetic.