Oct 21, 2007

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is a smart, talky movie about icky lawyers. Almost old-fashioned in its penchant for words, it is a tight thriller about a "fixer", played by George Clooney, who is always cleaning up sticky messes for his all-powerful law firm. It soehow feels old fashioned, as it is a proper movie, with proper dialogue and a proper plot, and lots of good material for the actors. In fact, the greatest treat are the actors, a stellar dream cast. The cinematography and the music are great, and everything works like clockwork.
It is a joy to watch Sydney Pollack in the role of the likeable boss of an unlikeable law firm. The man should act more often. The formidable Tom Wilkinson plays a lawyer who apparently has lost his marbles and decides to join the other side in a class action case. Everything he says and does seems like madness, but he is of course, the great seer of truth. It is an incredibly balanced performance in which the crazy shtick never seems like shtick. Tilda Swinton, an actress I've never really liked, gives an unbelievable performance as the chief counsel for a very evil company. She is mesmerizing (and in my view, deserves Oscar). And then there are a bunch of great New York stage actors who shine in their small roles, most memorably Denis O'Hare as a smarmy Connecticut man involved in a hit and run. Cloooooooney is fantastic as the tired, troubled anti-hero of the movie. He's kind of a loser, a sellout, and he's had it. He is very economical with his feelings but you can feel the rot and the disgust and the anger and the shame. It's a quiet but powerful performance. He is a wonderful movie star and a smart actor and we looooove him.
The film is a fantastic first directing gig for Tony Gilroy, writer of the Bourne movies. He seems to possess a natural gift for directing actors, and he gives them wonderful dramatic scenes to sink their teeth into, so that confrontations between Clooney and O'Hare, Clooney and Swinton, and Clooney and Wilkinson are little marvels of dramatic writing, and extremely choice morsels for the actors. It's all very satisfying, with a very complex plot and many characters that keep you very busy thinking, which is good. The movie is an ethical drama about corruption and cover ups, and at the end one wonders if it's going to go the extra mile and just drip with human ickiness.
I will not disclose. Go find out.
I'm surprised it is number 4 at the box office. The opening of it is a fantastic, longish voiceover rant by Tom Wilkinson and if that has not scared the Resident Alien audiences away, maybe there is still hope for mankind. I bet this movie has a loyal female audience and it also caters to guys who like to wrap their minds around interesting plots. During the endless previews, we were shown like 3 chick flicks who all seemed to have been created by the creators of The Devil Wears Prada and each lame comedy seemed more forced, unfunny and embarrasing than the next. You want to give us chick flicks? Put Clooney in a smart, rewarding film like Michael Clayton, and stop thinking we're all a bunch of airheads.
We'll pay to see him and to have his babies (or at least try!).

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