Sunday, October 21, 2007

Michael Clayton

What would it take...?

It seems morbid to ask this question, but as I began watching Michael Clayton, I was left wondering (about the main character, played by George Clooney, but also about myself): "What would someone have to do to be the target of an assassination plot?"

As I said, it sounds downright morbid, but that is the question we are left wondering for the majority of this movie, most of which takes place in backstory.

In this film, Michael Clayton is a legal "fixer" in a major New York law firm whose car gets blown up in the first ten minutes of screen time. The rest of the movie explains what Clayton had to do to become the target of that explosion. In the backstory, we find that Clayton found some inspiration from his colleague Arther Edens (Tom Wilkenson) who himself discovered that he was engaged in lies and deceit to win a case for their client U/North and litigator Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). But U/North and Crowder can't lose this multi-million dollar lawsuit either. With money figures like that, it's rather "inconvient" for Edens and Clayton to develop a conscience.

But that is what propels this story on. This is the story of two men's search for the truth, and finding that the truth isn't what they expected.

This film reminded me of the number of young adults whom I work with who tell me that they are stuck in jobs that make them compromise their integrity, lest they lose their job, money, or even their livelihood. Michael Clayton can serve as a source of inspiration. Like many of us, Clayton is far from being a saint - and doing the right thing isn't always the first choice when our jobs and our financial security is on the line.

But what would it take to make us hated, even to the point of death, for living with integrity? What would it take to put us in Michael Clayton's shoes? This movie reminds us that this life is not one that is comfortable, easy, or ends with a glossy Hollywood ending. Instead, doing the right thing will probably lose some friendships, affect our careers, and mess with our finances.

But at what cost?

"Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me and the gospel is not worthy of me or my gospel. In fact, whoever keeps his comfortable life will surely lose it; but whoever loses that kind of life for the sake of the gospel will ulimately find it again." (Mt. 10:38-39).

This is the hard and difficult passage I am reminded of after seeing Michael Clayton. I don't really like it, to be honest with you. As I sit comfortably at my computer writing this blog entry, I don't that that prospect. However, this is the challege I feel God calling me to once again. I suppose that is why the symbol of my faith is a cross, not because it looks good on jewelry, but because this is the goal we are all asked to strive towards, like it or not.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

"He who pursues justice and kindness will find life and honor." Prov. 21:21

In the film 3:10 to Yuma, we follow the characters on a journey through the West and through their own souls.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the leader of an outlaw gang, who is admired by his followers and feared by his rivals. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is the opposite: a down-on-his-luck, un-noticed, handicapepd (one wooden leg due to an injury in the Civil War) husband and father, looked upon with distaste by his own sons.

One man (Wade) sits on the top of the world, while the other (Evans) is squeezed to the bottom.

But when Evans accidentally stumbles on Wade (and soon after is instrumental in capturing him), he finds a one-of-a-kind chance to rise above it all. The reward for getting Wade to the train (the "3:10 p.m. train to Yuma", hence the movie's title) is $200, which would surely help Evans and his poor family out of a financial mess.

Evans' actions might be motivated by money, but he soons finds he is motivated by another cause: to show his sons and his family (and the world) that doing the right thing is the real joy of this journey through the West. His character finds great wisdom, perhaps inspired by a Biblical proverb like "He who pursues justice and kindness will find life and honor" (Prov. 21:21).

Wade's charcter, too, goes on a journey in this film. Starting out as a wild outlaw, he is almost inspired and touched by Evans' conversion of heart; in the end, he finds that honoring someone who showed him great kindness is of greater value than escaping the prison train to Yuma. While the violence of Wade (even in the final scenes) is inexcusable, he does have his own conversion of heart and realigns his loyalties to those who pursue justice and kindness, rather than those who pursue self-gratification and greediness.

Whether we're motivated by craving selfless honor or by the example of another, we are all on a journey in this life. Sometimes that journey takes us all over the wilderness, through unchartered territory, and alongside less-than-admirable companions (as it literally did for both Wade and Evans in 3:10 to Yuma).

But will we make our final train? Will we turn back in fear of where the train leads or will we have the courage to potentially sacrifice ourselves for a greater purpose?