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Michael Clayton (2007)
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Review Date: February 21, 2008
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writer: Tony Gilroy
Producers: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent, Steve Samuels
Actors:
George Clooney as Michael
Tom Wilkinson as Arthur
Tilda Swinton as Karen
Plot:
George Clooney plays a “fixer” in a giant law firm, a man who gets shit done when their clients need shit done. One day, he’s called into the office when a friend lawyer of his, a man who is overseeing a 3 billion dollar class-action lawsuit, “loses his beans” during a hearing and even gets naked in front of the clients. Clooney tries to make everyone understand that his friend just forgot to take his medications, but he too soon discovers that his friend might not be so loony after all, just mad as hell and not able to take it anymore. Legal and moral issues ensue.
Critique:
A serviceable drama/thriller that starts a little slow, but ultimately gets into a nice rhythm, where I actually started to care about what was happening to whom and why. Mind you, I don’t think I understood every single scene in the film, or who every other character was at all times, but I got the gist of most of it, and ultimately, enjoyed it, although not in a “Wow-wee!” kind of way. The film didn’t really explore that much new ground, I mean, a lot of times it reminded me of movies like A CIVIL ACTION and ERIC BROCKOVICH in which folks like you and me fight against the “big bad corporate monsters in suits” (not to mention a touch of NETWORK), or legal thrillers like THE CLIENT and THE FIRM in which lawyers are evil and do all kinds of shitty things in order to win cases (or is that real life?). That said, I’m pretty sure that I’d follow George Clooney to the ends of the Earth as the lead in a movie and considering that he’s probably in about 90% of the scenes in this film, needless to say…I stuck around and was engaged by most of what I saw. Other than Clooney, Tilda Swinton was the other standout, an actress who’s been solidifying her reputation as a solid thespian in smaller parts over the years, but who finally gets a “big picture” role that allows her to put all of her impressive acting chops to good use. Nice.

Another actor who I always enjoy anytime he decides to play an asshole or suit (or both!!) in a movie also kicked some ass here, and that is full-time director/part-time actor Sydney Pollack (also one of the producers on this film). Tom Wilkinson also did a fine job as the attorney apparently losing his marbles, while the director kept me engaged, particularly by setting the entire film up as a “flashback” after a 10-minute introduction ended with a bang and gave me something to look forward to (the next scene, and the rest of the film, travels back “Four days earlier”). Although it’s pretty obvious, allow me to state firmly that this is an “adult” movie dealing with adult subjects, and by “adult” I’m not referring to the porno industry. There aren’t any funny jokes in this movie, special effects or blazing action sequences (despite it being written/directed by the guy who wrote the BOURNE flicks). The film actually starts out like a character drama for the first hour or so, but ultimately injects some deviousness and suspense into the proceedings, and does enthrall a little.

By the end of the movie, the whole thing has developed a pretty ominous feel about it, including Clooney’s character who seems to be hanging on by a thread himself. The difference between films like this and others like SYRIANA is that despite both films featuring a bunch of characters and a ton of jargon, this one actually develops some of its characters enough that you give a shit about them, and things don’t get overly complex to the point that you have no idea what’s going on anymore (although you do have to pay close attention). I was interested in this film almost the entire way through, dug all of its acting efforts, and certainly loved its conclusion – especially the final “confrontation” scene – but I can’t say that the film provided me with any real new insight into lawyers or how much big corporations suck ass and care very little about the “little people”. The film was effective though, and certainly recommendable to anyone who enjoys legal thrillers and/or middle-aged character studies…starring people who look like George Clooney!
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian
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2:22AM on 02/21/2008
Wow, you sort of underrated Wilkinson here. Keep in mind that I haven't seen No Country yet, but so far for me that was easily the best Supporting acting I've seen in quite a while. His monologues were pretty chilling at points. I think that's pretty much the performance that kept me into the film. The stellar acting from all (Clooney, Tilda, Pollack are really good as well) made up for the story not being too interesting.
Wow, you sort of underrated Wilkinson here. Keep in mind that I haven't seen No Country yet, but so far for me that was easily the best Supporting acting I've seen in quite a while. His monologues were pretty chilling at points. I think that's pretty much the performance that kept me into the film. The stellar acting from all (Clooney, Tilda, Pollack are really good as well) made up for the story not being too interesting.
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12:30AM on 02/21/2008

A solid effort

While I agree this movie broke no new ground in the world of legal thrillers, I still think it managed to side-step the cliches often associated with movies of this ilk. And while shades of "A Civil Action" do exist, this is a behind-the-scenes look, from the other side of the case. This throwback to the character-driven '70s thrillers is really quite surprising. Tony Gilroy managed to create one of the most intense thrillers this side of David Mamet not to include gratuitous gun violence.
While I agree this movie broke no new ground in the world of legal thrillers, I still think it managed to side-step the cliches often associated with movies of this ilk. And while shades of "A Civil Action" do exist, this is a behind-the-scenes look, from the other side of the case. This throwback to the character-driven '70s thrillers is really quite surprising. Tony Gilroy managed to create one of the most intense thrillers this side of David Mamet not to include gratuitous gun violence. While Pollack is at his most sympathetic, and Wilkinson and Swinton are both damn good (if either of them manages a win in their category, I might be surprised, but not disappointed). One actor I liked, who I don't think I recall ever seeing before, was Sean Cullen as Clooney's cop brother. As much as this film seems to ultimately succumb to the justice prevails morality of the legal thriller, it's redeemed by the cynical and ambiguous tone of that last shot. Just plain old good film making if you ask me.
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