To help you navigate the choppy digital waves, here are The Globe’s best bets for weekend streaming, with this week’s special edition focusing on a specific type of adult-minded thriller that we’re going to call Confidentiality Agreement Cinema.
The Insider (Disney+ with Star)
I’m not sure exactly how it started, but the other night my household started what I’ve come to call our Confidentiality Agreement Thriller Film Festival. For several nights in a row, we watched a very particular kind of adult-minded movie – the type of mid-budget, star-driven, non-franchise film that Hollywood just doesn’t seem interested in making any more – and then kept the momentum going. The first title up was Michael Mann’s classic journalism/legal potboiler The Insider, which goes just as hard as I remembered from my first viewing back in the heady days of 1999. Al Pacino, a few years coming off of Mann’s epic heist classic Heat, is as intense as ever as a producer with 60 Minutes, while a young Russell Crowe amazes as the paranoid former tobacco executive who has many secrets to spill.
Michael Clayton (on-demand, including Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video)
No one plays a slick operator better than George Clooney, and in Tony Gilroy’s 2007 legal thriller, the actor is in the finest of bespoke-suited forms. Like The Insider, Michael Clayton pivots on seemingly benign legal manoeuvring that masks all sorts of chilling villainy, with Gilroy (who today is reinventing the Star Wars universe with Andor) painting a smooth and unnerving portrait of corporate greed. The film also boasts another hallmark of the Confidentiality Agreement genre: a killer roster of character actors, including Sydney Pollack, Michael O’Keefe, Denis O’Hare, Ken Howard, and Tom Wilkinson (whose character’s obsession with fresh baguettes would have spawned a million memes had the film been released in the post-Twitter era).
Dark Waters (on-demand, including Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video)
There are two mysteries at the heart of Dark Waters. The first is how the underrated 2019 film uncovers the misdeeds of chemical giant DuPont, which got away with poisoning a West Virginia town for decades. By following the 15-year battle of Cincinnati lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) and tracing his careful and measured approach to uncovering the truth, the film tells a deeply upsetting horror story about corporate malfeasance. But it is the second mystery that makes Dark Waters such an enticing prospect: What is art-house favourite Todd Haynes doing directing a seemingly straight-ahead legal thriller? The answer is that the director finds his own idiosyncratic way into a genre that can be bone-dry in lesser hands. Many of Dark Waters’ scenes are shot from claustrophobic and unsettling perspectives: a towering stack of DuPont records captured from a single fly-on-the-wall angle, or an uneasy long shot across downtown Parkersburg, W. Va., where DuPont’s name is plastered on every piece of public space. Haynes uses a cinematic language here that speaks, loud and clear, to the suffocating forces that Bilott finds himself up against.
She Said (on-demand, including Apple TV, Google Play, Prime Video)
Remember a few paragraphs above when I said that Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this any more? Well, the reason might be the box-office implosion of She Said, director Maria Schrader’s 2022 dramatization of The New York Times’ fight to expose the crimes of Harvey Weinstein. Maybe the film’s release was just an instance of too much too soon, but its collapse in the market pretty much seals the deal against decently sized Confidentiality Agreement movies for the time being. Which is a shame, because Schrader’s film – while not as ingeniously structured as The Insider or as propulsive as Michael Clayton – is a thoroughly engaging, detail-oriented look at the mechanics of investigative journalism.
Syriana (on-demand, including Apple TV, Google Play, Cineplex Store)
For every excellent Confidentiality Agreement movie, there must be one that falls apart. At least that’s what I discovered when I leapt from one Clooney movie to this 2005 thriller from writer-director Stephen Gaghan (who wrote Traffic, another narratively splintered geopolitical tale). There are many – too many, really – ideas explored here in the landscape of the global oil supply, but it is ultimately the dumb person’s idea of a smart movie, with a half-dozen plot threads that go nowhere special. Honestly, I couldn’t even be bothered to finish the film before my on-demand rental period expired, but maybe you’ll feel differently, especially if you’re a superfan of its jammed cast, which includes not only Clooney (in a role that somehow garnered him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), but Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Siddig, Tom McCarthy, Chris Cooper, Mark Strong, and Amanda Peet.