Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Michael Clayton

The reviews for Michael Clayton have been nothing but stellar, some critics labelling it one the best movies of the year, worthy of Oscars. Here's where I get to add my two cents and possibly make some angry. I've given myself a full day to fully absorb Tony Gilroy's directorial debut, and while this is in fact an intelligent, engrossing movie, it's more competent that transcendent, more of the appreciative variety, than the loved, and far more an achievement in casting than pacing (I enjoy mature, complex filmmaking, but when the entire middle act of a film is putting me to sleep, it's subtlety is less a success.) Aside from light comatose inducement, Michael Clayton will surprise (especially at the end-- it's a dozy), and does make enlightened comments on today's corrupt corporate marketplace.
George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, once a litigator for a prestigious law firm, long bought out for another career as the company's "janitor," fixer of problem areas. His boss, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) is of the bull-free, eye on the billable hours variety, and needs Michael's assistance on a new high-profile problem area. Ace attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has just stripped naked in the middle of a deposition and ran around in the parking lot. He's bi-polar, and just went off his meds. Arthur is six years deep in a class actions law suit against a highly successful chemical company whose weeds product has allegedly given people cancer. The sly joke is that by going off his rocker, Arthur has actually come to his senses-- trying to rid himself of arguing on behalf of a company that kills people, in an attempt to prolong a trial, just so his law firm can bask in lofty billable hours. The other main character is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), a high-strung executive at the chemical company. Swinton's performance is a quiet thing of beauty-- she plays Karen as a nervous, overly analytical woman just now realizing her job requires her to be a shark.
It makes for a great, topical premise, but Gilroy drags the film down a bit, with too much plotting, and too much half-baked personal problems for Michael. He has an ex-wife, and a son, he more or less ignores, a failed dream of opening up a bar haunting him, an estranged drug addict brother he ignores, and a gambling addiction, plus all the moral complexities he puts upon himself for being a part of the corrupt players at work. It all seemed a bit over done, and for at least a little while put me out of the main story thread. However Clooney is quite good at conveying the haggard Clayton, and reserved judgement aside continues to use his movie star looks in interesting, socially conscious ways-- Syriana and Good Night, & Good Luck.

However it's Wilkinson who's outstanding here, whenever he's onscreen the full promise and potential of Michael Clayton bursts forward, that inevitably when he's not, it limps along. There's a scene toward the center that's very thrilling and quiet that's devastating to behold-- if you've seen you know which one it is, that expresses Arthur's tragedy of growing a conscience. It's in this scene and final scenes that are the most vital in Michael Clayton, and maybe that's why the film has been heralded a unqualified success-- it closes remarkably well, but for me it's a well-acted, so-so film with a good ending-- let the chastising begin. B-

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