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Review: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton
10.02.2007
7 10

PLOT: When one of the head litigators for a huge law firm has a mental breakdown, trouble starts for everyone. He becomes a liability for those involved as he begins to change his tune while siding with those who are suing a large company in a class action law suit. The same company that is a client for the well respected law firm. Michael Clayton, who is an old friend to the lawyer and handles the janitorial work for the firm (cleaning up messes made by rich clients), begins to question everything he does as he learns more about the lawyers insanity.

REVIEW: The truth can be adjusted. So says the tag line for the new George Clooney thriller, MICHAEL CLAYTON. And there you have it, a big star, a bit of intrigue and a few talented actors surrounding Mr. Clooney to back up the fact that it is going to be a joke of a script with a few cool action set-pieces. But if that is what you are expecting… guess again. Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the Matt Damon Bourne series, has crafted a stylishly clever film that relies on character, and not simply flash. For Tony’s feature film debut, he removes the action almost altogether and replaces it with characters who are all connected in some way to a class action law suit. There are no car chases, there are no shootouts, but there are several damaged souls, all doing what they see as the right thing to do, even if they know how wrong it is.

The movie develops around Tom Wilkinson in another amazing performance. In an early monologue, he is describing the filth and disease and other things that we as the audience really don’t understand. After all, we don’t know anything about him. But we soon realize that Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an in-house “fixer” for Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, he handles issues that may hurt some of their more important clients by cleaning up the clients messes. Now this is a thriller. The idea that the rich are so protected that they seemingly can get away with hit and run. Scary, but I’m guessing true.

After dealing with an angry client, Michael Clayton has a few other issues. After a major event, we go back in time and see what was happening four days before. And like a puzzle that is slowly pieced together, we are brought in to understand his history, one piece at a time. It is an easy pace, not necessarily dull, although some of the second act teeters on dullness. It also has you believe that Michael Clayton would have time to look at horses at a very opportune moment which strains credibility. But there is still much good to be had.

I mentioned that the actors surrounding Mr. Clooney are talented but they are also, thankfully, put to good use. Tom Wilkinson may be one of the best actors working in film today. His portrayal of Arthur Edens, one of the firm’s top litigators, suddenly having a mental breakdown is pretty astounding. He manages to inject joy, fear and loathing into his performance. He has a wonderful moment speaking to Clayton’s son about a book the boy loves. It is touching and at the same time, painful and heartbreaking.

Also managing to inspire, is Tilda Swinton as the in-house chief counsel Karen Crowder at a company that may be poisoning people, Tilda is completely in control, while slowly losing it, trying to protect her beloved company, U/North. Both Tilda and Tom present very different and very distinct characters. There is a whole lot of richness as the two make very complicated people alive on screen. This never seems to be “good guy/bad guy”, although there is a definite line drawn. This is not saying that the lines are quite so diluted, it is obvious who we should root for, but it is refreshing to see the bad guy in a different light. Thus, making them human has a stronger impact when things get serious.

As for George Clooney, he gives the title role vulnerability and subtle understanding. He is very crystal clear as to his position at the firm, but he is also torn by his own family issues, and the clients who are easily committing criminal acts. Mr. Clooney is a master at understating a performance, yet not letting us forget how deeply felt the emotions behind the character are.

Tony Gilroy has directed a fine thriller that tells it’s story, by telling the story. It doesn’t blast guns at the audience or blow things up (well maybe one explosion). It simply offers up a situation, much like ERIN BROCKOVICH, and let’s the audience in on the secret. At times, it is much too slow and I don’t feel the connection to the horses was all that clear (trust me, when this happens, you’ll know). So it seems that it’s trying too hard to be deep. But when we get to the final half hour or so, it really works. The ending is sensational, as the connections are made and we realize the implications of what has been going on. How each of these people make flawed decisions for their own well being is fascinating and probably very realistic. It is all surrounded by some beautiful cinematography, and a strong score that truly lends itself to the story. It’s nice to see a thriller that doesn’t try too hard to impress, and just offers up a very human and realistic sense of drama.

My rating 7/10 -- JimmyO

Source: www.joblo.com

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