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Michael Clayton (2007) R 119min

October 16th, 2007 by Maxim · 2 Comments · 5,622 Views


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Michael ClaytonI’ll be surprised if this legal/business thriller is not an Oscar nominee.

The plot: George Clooney is great as Michael Clayton, a lawyer for a successful law-firm. He tells the clients what they don’t want to hear: “I am not a miracle worker, I am a janitor”. He he the right looks: cleanly dressed and shaved, some gray hair also helps. He is far from being successful though: divorced and has his son only on Saturdays, he’s never been offered to be a partner in his law firm, he may lose his bar/restaurant because of a card game.

The entire law-firm knows the fertiliser company is guilty of killing some 500 people with their carcinogenic product. Michael’s boss, Marty Bach, is played by Sydney Pollack – almost a typical role for him – he’s great in roles that embody authority with a little dark side. One of his top lawyers, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has just gone berserk stripping naked during a deposition hearing. Arthur justified himself to his friend Michael because he can’t stand being devil’s advocate for 16 years in a row. It’s not his first episode – chemical imbalance is only part of the issue. The other part is he is a conscientious person.

Tom Wilkinson in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Michael ClaytonChief legal executive Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is a perfectionist, and invested in the success of the firm a lot. She understands Arthur’s behavior can ruin the case of 16 years, and her firm. Arthur is becoming not only a liability, but a threat, an enemy when Karen suspects he may go public with the smoking gun exposing fertilizer company’s internal memo.

Troubled Michael has to decide whether to keep being a “fixer”, a “janitor” and accept the loan from senior partners to save his restaurant, or help his friend and do the right thing.

This is directing debut for Tony Gilroy, who was a main writer for all “Bourne” movies, “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Proof of Life“.

The film was produced by George Clooney, Sydney Pollack and Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Thirteen, The Good German, Syriana – again with Clooney in it, Good Night And Good Luck – also with Clooney, Insomnia, Pleasantville and many more).

An intelligent thriller, this is not a action film, so it’s a departure from shaky camera of the Bourne films. Very realistic. The title is appropriate: a story of a man who’s a great lawyer, not such a good friend, and an unsuccessful family man. There’s a little of The Firm, Civic Action and Erin Brokovich – a crusade of individual against an evil corporation, but for the most part the focus of the movies is drama of human beings who just happen to be lawyers.

Tilda Swinton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Michael ClaytonAll acting was spot on. Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Broken Flowers, Constantine, Thumbsucker, Young Adam, Adaptation, Vanilla Sky, The Beach etc.) was great. She’s the perfect choice for the role: a perfectionist, pale face, thin bloodless lips, strong character, wicked - she could be the Empress of the galaxy in Star Wars! Especially the shot of her looking at the mirror and a horrible decision. Clooney is awesome as a troubled character trying to keep his life together while eventually coming to the same conclusion about the purpose of his existence as his friend Arthur. I loved the shot when he’s balancing the $80,000 check in one hand and the “smoking gun” memo in another. Even in the closing credits that go on for some 5 minutes, his facial expression keeps changing and we can read his thoughts. Tom Wilkinson was amazing again – such a great performance as a maniacally depressed lawyer – a role in many ways similar to his role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The boy who played Michael’s son (missed his name) was also very good – a short role but what a great performance!

“Everyone hates lawyers until they need one”.

The good: Great story and suspense, great cast, great acting. Musical score by James Newton Howard was nice, although some times it felt like a score from a sci-fi movie. It made me feel like watching Rain Man, Silence of the Lambs or X-files, but maybe it was combination of late autumn weather and the music a sort of meditation on misery and torment.

The bad: I could predict the ending the minute Karen Crowder walked out of the Board meeting. Maybe because of lenses chosen, some shots made it hard to perceive depth of field – they looked flat, otherwise I loved photography, light, angles, even the miserable cold weather. I am not sure that Clayton redeemed himself in the end. What he did could have been a logical, not moral choice. Would he have done the same thing had his car didn’t blow up? Maybe not. Maybe he’d just go on as usual.

** 80th Academy Awards Update (Feb 24, 2008) **

Tilda Swinton received the Oscar for the Best Performance By An Actress In Supporting Role. Tom Wilkinson has lost the best supporting actor Oscar to Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men).

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Rated 4/5 on Oct 16 2007
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Tags: Drama · Movies · Thrillers/Suspense

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dick Douglas // Oct 17, 2007 at 1:54 pm

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    I agree, it was a great film with inspiring acting and writing. I disagree with your assessment of the conclusion though. Although predictable in some sense, it was the only outlet for him to find real redemption.

    I’m not sure about your Rain Man, Silence of the Lambs, X-Files comment, but I understand what you mean. Often I will also be reminded of other movies in subtle indescribable ways, which is another indicator that the film is effective in its delivery.

  • 2 RocknRolla (2008) R 114min | Maxim’s Movie Reviews and Opinions Blog // Oct 26, 2008 at 12:05 am

    [...] Oscar long time ago, either for his role in Enternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or his role in Michael Clayton, or his role in John Adams. Thandie Newton was beautiful and seductive as always, even more so [...]

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