Wednesday, October 3, 2007
MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007) - Tony Gilroy
George Clooney returns to the screens this month in a film that is miles apart from the other film he was in this year, Ocean’s 13. This time, Clooney goes serious in a film that attempts to tackle that oft-broached subject of the evils of big business. How it tramples on the little guy all for the sake of saving money for the evil, faceless members of the board of directors and investors. In Michael Clayton, Clooney plays the title character. Clayton works for one of the largest law firms in the world. He’s been with the company seventeen years, but because of his social class, where he came from, he has never been offered the position of partner.
Instead, Clayton has carved somewhat of a niche for himself as a fixer. He’s the guy the company calls when embarrassing situations arise that need to be handled discreetly. It’s not a job Clayton seems to enjoy, nor is it one that offers him financial security. Clayton co-owns a failing bar. He seeks out underground poker games and gambles his money away. His family life is far from ideal. It’s a role Clooney plays very well. You can see the fatigue on his face. Life really has run him down. It seems that Clooney is better at playing these types of characters than the likes of Danny Ocean, a role he’s pretty much become a star with. Yet with this, Syriana, and the films Clooney has directed himself, Clooney proves he has the talent to back up the superstar status.
Clayton is called in to clean up the mess made by Arthur Edens, one of the top lawyers in the company Clayton works for, and the primary lawyer in a large class-action suit between 450 farmers and chemical firm, U-North. Clayton thinks he knows how to handle the Edens situation, but there’s more to this problem than Clayton is aware of. Meanwhile, at U-North, the career of litigator Karen Crowder rests on the successful resolution of the class action suit. A race begins to fix the mess created by Edens. And with pressure mounting from his superiors, and threats on his life, Clayton finds himself buckling under the pressure.
Director Tony Gilroy previously wrote the screenplays for the excellent Bourne films. Michael Clayton, marks his debut as director. This film certainly has the same feel as the Bourne films when to comes to the talking. However, I wouldn’t rush to see it and expect the same type of film. There’s little to no action in this film. It’s a slow burner. And at two hours, it feels long. The success of the film rests with the actors. This is, after all, a character piece. Clooney, as I’ve mentioned is very good in the central role. Clayton is in no way a strong character. While talented at his job, almost every other aspect of his life is a failure. For such a successful actor to portray a role like this requires some degree of talent. And that talent is obvious here. Tom Wilkinson plays Arthur Edens. Wilkinson is a terrific character actor. He’s made quite the career since for himself since The Full Monty, and he plays the unhinged Edens very well. Tilda Swinton’s performance as Karen Crowder is the standout performance, however. She’s very much on the edge, almost having a nervous breakdown due to the fear she feels with her job. Yet at the same time, she’s remarkably cool when selling the lies about U-North. One scene intercuts her preparation for an interview with the interview itself. It’s very interesting to watch an actor switch between the two states of mind so successfully.
While the cast (which also includes Sydney Pollack) is excellent, and the message of the film is clear, it’s not really anything new. We’ve seen this kind of thing before in Syriana and Michael Mann’s The Insider. While the film isn’t terrible by an degree, it’s not something I’d be rushing to see in the cinema. It’s something that can wait for home viewing. Somewhere you know you’ll be more comfortable!