By: The Dweeb
Michael Clayton is billed as a thriller but it will surprise you in many ways. It is a unique film, well written, with a pace that’s a lot slower than you would expect from this type of genre, like watching a candle slowly burn out but it still remains engaging and enjoyable to watch. There are many twists and turns in this film, and you want to know what is happening around the corner. The focus is more on the characters in this movie rather than the plot itself, which is what makes things very interesting. The overall tone of the film is cold and dark, everyone seems to be an island unto themselves, distanced from the rest of life. Director Tony Gilroy structures it in such a way that we are forced to ask questions and hope that they are answered by the end of the film. When you can engage the audience like this, its no surprise that this film has been nominated for several Oscars this year.
Borrowing the same ideas from Quentin Tarantino, the film actually starts off toward the end of the story as we later find out. If this had kept the more linear approach I think it would have made the film quite boring actually. We get thrown in right away at about the apex of the story, where things begin to turn for Michael Clayton (George Clooney) but we’re not quite sure what is happening. For that to be answered, the story goes back in time and starts over, and follows through until this point and its conclusion. There are points in the film that take us on a detour from the main plot, and seemingly they may seem pointless, but they add value by giving more into the backstory of these characters.
As I said before, this film is a deep character study. There is no true bad guy in here, unless you count the faceless evil corporation at the center of the lawsuit. That’s probably the only statement they make actually, companies will do anything to keep the bottom line, standard Hollywood idealism but ironic because these films are distributed by huge corporations. Back on topic, every character in here is flawed or vulnerable in some way, making them more relatable to the viewer, hey like a real person! We see that Michael Clayton is supposed to be this suave, tough guy fixer for this giant law film. He fixes the major problems and messes that involve the firms well heeled clients, and is referred to as the janitor. Ironically he can’t even fix his own personal life, which eventually leaks over into his professional life. He has to ask for money, has a gambling problem, his family life is fractured and while people are trying to kill him. On top of it, he is alone.
I think the entire cast in here does a fantastic job, thanks to the piles of rich material to mine from the script, its no surprise this film garnered many Oscar nods for this year. Clooney’s portrayal of Michael Clayton was excellent, he really conveyed the helplessness that he felt throughout the film. He looked as if he was lost and couldn’t find his way. Tilda Swinton as the conflicted Karen Crowder, the U North corporate spokeswoman goes against her better judgement and remains loyal at any cost to her boss. Never mind their product can kill people, protecting the bottom line is more important to her. But the cake goes to Tom Wilkinson as lead attorney Arthur Edens. Wow, he is the lead attorney representing U North in this lawsuit, but goes off the deep end when he comes to grips with the truth and what he has worked on for years is a sham. He takes a similar path to Harrison Ford’s character in the film Regarding Henry. This performance is definitely a lock for the Oscar nod I think.
The genius is in the cinematography, its subtle but the blocking of the shots really convey that everyone walks alone in this film. Long, wide angle shots coupled with closeups drive home the tone of the film. All are separated by some invisible wall, the personal closeness of interacting with others is not there. A great example is in the beginning where he is in the kitchen of the one client who did a hit and run. There is no warmth in the color palette, most everything is a neutral or dark with a bluish tint. It conveys a cold feeling.
Despite the fact that this movie is excellent, Warner Bros. has decided to be a bit chincy with the rest of the DVD package. Technically its a beautiful film to watch, but the extra material leaves me wanting more, a lot more. I’m guessing they are waiting until after the Oscars to repackage this one if anyone comes home with the gold, which is a likely scenario as this film is such a strong contender. The only extra features are some deleted scenes and a commentary track. This is definitely designed for the rental market. So go ahead and Netflix this guy as soon as you can.