Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Michael Clayton

Remember when Redford and Hoffman rolled back and fourth in their chairs, phones attached to their necks, working that newsroom? When Peter Finch was as mad as hell? When Jack found out about Chinatown? When Hackman chased trains with his car? When three desperate men needed a bigger boat? When Pachino yelled Attica, De Niro had a Mohawk and Brando made offers you couldn’t refuse? Those brilliant films of the ‘70s formulated suspense. They were the prototype of the smart, adult, thriller. Michael Clayton, a brilliant spectacle of a film, is the ultimate throwback to the ‘70s.

Clayton, is a perfect film. Powerful direction, an enthralling narrative, a fresh screenplay with endless amounts of addictive dialogue, rapid cinematography and some of the most remarkable acting of the year.

George Clooney, shedding that Danny Ocean bravado, plays the title character. He works as a “fixer” for a top New York law firm. “I’m not a miracle worker,” he assures a desperate client, “I’m a janitor.” He cleans up the messes that are caused, or will cause the firm any harm.

When the lead litigator of a 3 billion class-action law suit, strips naked in a deposition and runs bare-assed in a snowy parking lot, Clayton is sent to sterilize the mess. Star lawyer Arthur Edens (a miraculous Tom Wilkinson) is off his meds and appears to be losing his grasp on reality. But beneath his constant rambling, he may be on to something. He’s spent the last six years defending U-North, a company that manufactures a weed killer, which Edens has discovered has been the result of hundreds of deaths on American farms.

Clayton’s job is to keep his old pal quiet and medicated. Their arguments are battles of stalemate intelligence, each with their own seemingly logical perspectives on the situation. Wilkinson, an actor of consistent excellence, presents Edens as a tortured but compassionate soul. A lot rests on Wilkinson’s shoulders for the film to work and he exceeds with whimsical intensity.

The convoluted plot doesn’t nearly end there. Tinda Swinton plays a U-North consultant who takes matters into her own hands, hiring a couple of 21st century goons to tail Edens. Her Karen Crowder rehearses simple speeches to herself, sets out her power suits on her bed and wears her pearl necklace with a villainous glow. Here, Swinton is a revelation. An independent film Goddess, Swinton brings her subtle, controlled beauty to a role of fear and moral anxiety. You’ve never seen someone really sweat until she’s panicked in a bathroom stall.

Sydney Pollack, a great Hollywood multi-tasker, delivers his best acting performance to date as Clayton’s ethically-lacking boss. Pollack’s opening scene sets a beautiful tone for not only his character, but the film itself. You’ll love the way he calmly tells a reporter that her deadline has already passed. He brings a surprising bit of comic relief to the heavy-handed film. Try not to laugh when he casually calls a co-worker an asshole.

First time director Tony Gilroy, has already proved his talent with his screenwriting (The Devil’s Advocate, all three Bourne films). Clayton is by far his most intriguing script yet and with some help from a team of powerhouse producers- Clooney, Pollack, Anthony Minghella and Steven Soderbergh- Gilroy directs his complicated film into a modern day masterpiece. The cinematography is tight and smooth, straight from the book of Bourne. The music, from vet James Newton Howard, is crisp and commanding. Gilroy demonstrates how useful editing can be, teasing us just enough in the beginning of the film, only to have it come back full circle and still manage to shock us.

The film’s true wonder is that of Clayton himself. Picture after picture, George Clooney has won people over with his remarkable charm. His Oscar winning role in Syriana was a marvel to experience. Expect much of the same here. Clooney ditches his God-given charisma for a man who has deep-seeded issues and lives in a constant state of strife. A guy who resents what he does, only gets his son on Saturdays, has an unhealthy knack for cards and is in loads of debt because of his junkie brother. He doesn’t smile much and he doesn’t woo you with his smooth talkin’ voice, he speaks every line with his eyes and scruffy demeanor.

Every Oscar winning acting performance has that scene. A scene that put them over the edge of the competition, that got them the gold. From Denzel’s tear, to Sean Penn’s animalistic cries for his daughter, to Halle Berry stripping herself down to desperate passion, and so on. Clooney gets that scene here, and although I’d never tell exactly which moment it is, I only hope that you can distinguish it amongst several breathtaking ones. Gilroy gives Clayton several chances to be memorable and Clooney nails each one. From his first moment on screen, sinking away at a card table, to a significant, and rather inspiring closing credits, Clooney will have you convinced.

In a wondrous climatic moment with Swinton, Clooney proves that Clayton can be a miracle worker. So well in fact that for years to come, people will be putting the scene on a list similar to the one mentioned above. So fun, it’s impossible to forget. A truly outstanding film, which will make adults reminisce about the good ol’ days. When movies did more than just entertain, they thrilled and stirred thought, without you even knowing it. A+


  1. I like so much George Clooney in this film.

    1. So good. Still might be my favorite Clooney performance.