Thursday, October 18, 2007

Michael Clayton

In an effort to whittle down the number of flicks on my must-see movie list, I checked out the directorial debut of writer Tony Gilroy (the writer of all three of the Bourne movies). This taut legal thriller can be summed up in one word:


Directing his own script about a legal "fixer" at a prestigious New York law firm, Gilroy explores the complexities and ambiguities of law--and of life. As we are drawn deeper into the story, the shades of grey grow--like the five o'clock shadow of stubble across Michael Clayton's (played a terrific George Clooney) face and the dark circles under his increasingly weary eyes. The movie opened in fourth place with a gross of only $10 million prompting Kim Masters at Slate to pose the question of Clooney, "Is He Really a Box-Office Draw?"

Bite your tongue, Ms. Masters! The reason people aren't going to see this film is no reflection on Mr. Clooney, who turns in a quietly nuanced performance as a man who is basically "a janitor" as his character puts it. The problem may be with movie-going audiences today who don't want a thoughtful and intelligent character-driven drama, but car chases and explosions and naked women. This is not a big box office movie--it's the type of film that wins critical acclaim, an intelligent audience--and lots of awards. But if that isn't consolation enough for Mr. Clooney, who also was one of the producers on the film, he can always take comfort in the fact that it's doing TEN TIMES better than his buddy Brad Pitt's Jesse James movie.

As richly textured a performance as Clooney gives as the title character, he is surrounded by fabulous supporting cast, including Tilda Swinton as a corporate attorney in way over her head and the multi-talented Sydney Pollack (who also produced the film) as head of the firm Michael works for. But the hands down stunning performance goes to Tom Wilkinson as Arthur Edens, a brilliant lawyer who, in the midst of a meltdown, has either lost his mind or come to his senses. The film starts with Eden's voice--and a black screen. And the words written by Tony Gilmore and Wilkinson's pitch perfect delivery are enough to captivate you from the get-go. I hope Tom Wilkinson gets an Oscar. He deserves it.

Michael attempts to keep Arthur under control--all while his own life spins precariously out of control. As Arthur reaches an epiphany about his life and work and how it lacks morality, integrity, humanity and even meaning, he works to find some kind of redemption or salvation. At the same time, Michael works to suppress his feelings of self-loathing just as he works to repress Arthur's loose-cannon tendencies. This is a smart, classy, thought-provoking movie and it deserves an audience. If you like your films to entertain and challenge you, then you must see this movie!

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