Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Michael Clayton (2008)

Memo to Tony Gilroy, director of Michael Clayton

Dear Sir,

Thank you for giving hope to movie-goers over 18.

Michael Clayton is an honest-to-goodness drama/thriller with an outstanding cast. Not a gun was fired. Two explosions happened with no one nearby. Tony, you relied on great performances from a strong ensemble of actors. Bravo.

Yes, George Clooney did make Leatherheads and Solaris, but he's usually associated with very well-made films. One of his earlier efforts, Out of Sight, is still one of my all-time favourites. I could talk about Jennifer Lopez's subsequent mostly lousy movie choices, but that's another memo.

Tom Wilkinson is one of England's best, with past credits including The Full Monty and Batman Begins. As Arthur Edens, he's a "killer" lawyer who also has mental health issues. When he learns the company he's supposed to be representing is manufacturing a weed killer that kills people too, he switches sides. Arthur starts to collect paperwork that will incriminate U North.

Clooney is Michael Clayton, the firm's "special counsel" who's called in to fix up whatever miss clients find themselves in. He's described as "the keeper of the hidden sins."

He's in a bit of a jam himself. His salary isn't as high as the firm's partners enjoy. He likes to play high-stakes poker. A business venture has bottomed out and he owes a good chunk of change to lenders who take a very hands-on approach when money due is late.

But Clayton isn't the only janitor involved in this particularly messy case. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is lead consel for U North. She employs her own fixer uppers. Their methods are deadlier than the tactics Clayton employs. They keep tabs on Arthur and, with Crowder's consent, step up their efforts to keep him quiet.

Tony, you've penned scripts to some pretty impressive films including The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Ultimatum. You showed a strong dual effort with Michael Clayton, writing the script and making your directorial debut. Well done. Your work was definitely noticed with six Oscar nominations including a win for Swinton as best supporting actress. She does do a great job here as a woman who just received a big promotion and isn't quite sure how she's supposed to make a very major problem disappear.

There's an ominous tone running through most of Michael Clayton's two-hour running time. Clayton and Crowder have a powerful encounter at the film's conclusion.

Director Sydney Pollack appears in his second-last role as Arthur Edens, Clayton's boss and head of the law firm. He died in 2008, a year after this film's release.

Even a brief appearance by Denis O'Hare (The Proposal, J. Edgar) packs real punch. His character, Mr. Greer, is on edge after hitting a jogger. He's not impressed with Clayton's efforts to help him tidy up his particular mess. Austin Williams is sold as Henry, Clayton's son. Listen carefully to his explanation of a book he's reading at the film's start. His synopsis sets up what his dad is about to face.

Tony, keep up the good work. It's rare to find a film with brains and such great acting. Please, keep 'em coming.

RATING: 8.5/10

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