Last night Cesca and I watched the new George Clooney movie “Michael Clayton”:
Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an in-house “fixer” at one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. A former criminal prosecutor, Clayton takes care of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen’s dirtiest work at the behest of the firm’s co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack). Though burned out and hardly content with his job as a fixer, his divorce, a failed business venture and mounting debt have left Clayton inextricably tied to the firm. At U/North, meanwhile, the career of litigator Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) rests on the multi-million dollar settlement of a class action suit that Clayton’s firm is leading to a seemingly successful conclusion. But when Kenner Bach’s brilliant and guilt-ridden attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) sabotages the U/North case, Clayton faces the biggest challenge of his career and his life
What is it with George these days? The last 4 or 5 movies he has been involved with have all been seriously excellent. Whatever is leading to the rhythm he has found, I thank the god’s for it. Here we see George making some very clever producer decisions. He knows that the background plot to the movie; the law case; is incredibly lame. I was able to sum it up to Cesca (who wasn’t paying attention – tisk!) with the simple description:
“Its just like the Erin Brockovich story”.
Its a hard rock life
The case is in effect a MacGuffin designed to act as motivation for the characters extreme decisions and actions. Another MacGuffin is put in place for Clooney, with the pressure being put on him to clear his brother’s debts. This is basic stuff.
So why the high score?
The high score is because Clooney has filled out the story by picking some of the best actors alive today.
Firstly we have himself, and boy is he good. He always reminds me of actors like Connery, in that he mainly plays himself, but he does it with a lot of conviction and style. Also leading the pack has to be the universally acclaimed Tom Wilkinson. His softly manic performance as Edens is excellently realised and expressive as he regains his childhood freedom, if only for a little while. I love the moment when, after people had been almost baby talking him for most of the film, he suddenly snaps back into the ninja-killer lawyer he really was for just a moment of clarity. But, these excellent performances are outshined by Tilda.
I’ve always had a thing for Tilda after seeing her many years ago in the brilliant Orlando. The final look in that movie (as she breaks the forth wall), won her a fan for life. Here she gives us a perfect character study of someone willing to do anything to take away almost overwhelming fear. This fear is, I feel, almost a sort of addiction for her character as she struggles when on her own in controlling her bursting emotions, which in front of others are clinically professional. Tilda really got into the look of the role and even gained weight to fill out the business clothes of a hard nosed bitch. For the normally very thin actress, this probably made her ability to play discomfort a lot better, as the usually svelte Tilda would have displayed far too much physical confidence for the part. Here she fairly itches in the body of Karen Crowder and at one moment actually shakes with fear.
In fact, thinking about it, addiction is a big part of this film. Clooney’s character is fighting a previous gambling addiction, his brother was/is an alcoholic and Edens is a manic depressive on pills to control his mood swings. Yep, these are fucked up people all trying to win some sort of redemption. Of course, Clooney is the character we hope will win through and the final confrontation is very satisfying.
A lot of films are carried by the actors struggling with a poor plot and this film could be judged in this way if it wasn’t for the quality of the acting and the smoothness of the direction. This is a film for film fans. One to watch for the love of good acting and although it is not going to be as remembered as long as other recent releases (There Will Be Blood, for example) it is definitely in the same league.