Theatrical Review: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is an attorney for the New York law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledden and he’s what’s described as a “fixer” or a “janitor,” the type of guy who’s called in to handle the extremely unpleasant occurrences, he’s supposed to clean them up and keep them as quiet as possible (think of a more real world version of Winston Wolf, the character Harvey Keitel played in Pulp Fiction). A colleague of Michael’s, Arthur, does a similar job for an agricultural chemical company called UNorth, and Arthur has found himself at the end of his rope, living and breathing a class action suit against the company for the last six years, and knowing what he’s doing in defending the company when they knew there was a danger is the wrong thing to do- Arthur snaps, and Michael Clayton is brought in to handle this. Michael, of course has his own demons, and in trying to do what he can for his friend, starts to find that they weigh heavily on him as well… and of course, hijinks ensue…

That’s the basic premise to Michael Clayton the new movie from star George Clooney and director Tony Gilroy, who’s better known as a screen writer, in particular for the Jason Bourne movies. What they’ve delivered is a very taut legal thriller that also serves as a great character study. It’s also a great puzzle drama, that has you putting together the pieces as they unfold in a non-linear way. It doesn’t lead you by the hand and it certainly doesn’t ask you to turn you brain off as you’re watching it. It’s very much for mature audiences, not for anything of a violent or sexual nature, but more for it’s realistic portrayal of people who have jobs to do and having to face their consequences over those jobs.

Clooney is also a producer on the film as is his longtime collaborator Steven Soderbergh (together these two are one of my favorite teams of filmmakers working today), and that Soderbergh “feel” is certainly there in the filmmaking, right from the unobtrusive opening titles all the way up to a very bold way to end the film. Gilroy has certainly incorporated these tactics well, making a great thinking man’s film.

I think Clooney definitely wants to get an Oscar in his career and for the right reasons, delivering great performances, and he’s certainly on his game here, particularly in the film’s final moments where the ambiguity of Michael’s job starts to really weigh heavily into the film’s climax- it’s just a great, yet subtle, well rounded performance. He’s certainly backed up with some great top talent, including Tom Wilkinson as Arthur, Tilda Swinton as the lead counsel for UNorth and director and sometimes actor, Sydney Pollack as Bach, one of the partners of Kenner, Bach & Ledden. All three of them give great performances, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see either Wilkinson or Swinton get some sort of supporting actor nominations. Not to slight Pollack in the least, but Pollack is delivering the type of performance that he usually gives in films, he’s solid, and certainly has credibility, but it’s not the stretch that either Wilkinson or Swinton delivers.

Michael Clayton is an absolutely terrific film, and if you’re in the mood for some mature drama, it’s probably one of the best thing out there for you to see right now. Really well done and of course, highly recommended…

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

25. October 2007 by Darren Goodhart
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