Michael Clayton (2007)
Release Date: October 12th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Tony Gilroy Actors: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack, Danielle Skraastad, Tom McCarthy, Julie White
n the world of big business, big money, and big litigation, anything can be covered up. And with as hard-hitting and satisfyingly clever an ending as the one that closes “Michael Clayton,” even earlier faults within the film can quickly become swept under the rug. While the climactic payoff gives the audience everything they’ve been waiting so patiently for, it’s still a shame that the film takes so long to examine an overabundance of characters and their circuitous participation in Clayton’s seemingly undefined and complexly shady responsibilities.
Father. Brother. Gambler. Legal advisor. Law firm “fixer” and “bagman.” Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is all of these and more. Leading a troubled and infinitely complicated lifestyle of solving problems, Clayton becomes embroiled in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit to cover up damaging evidence against U-North, a powerful agricultural products corporation. His main opponent is a man on his side, a lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) who has suddenly seen the errors of working with corruption and greed (coupled with a sudden lack of medication that affords him ruinous clarity). Added to the mix is U-North litigator Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), whose success relies on Clayton’s failure. As the stakes grow larger and the loose ends become more damaging, Clayton must decide whether or not an attempt to defy those with the power to alter the truth is a battle that can be won.
“Michael Clayton” takes the increasingly familiar narration of starting almost at the end, backtracking to the beginning, going forward to the opening scene, and then finishing from there. It may sound complex, but it’s deceptively simple. The problem is that, early on, the audience is shown the outcome of Clayton’s nerve-wracking car ride (a significant, jarring juncture), which causes the nonlinear storyline to be completely unnecessary. Other films utilize this chopped up narrative by withholding dramatic truths until the finale. But “Michael Clayton” shows the viewer every major event up front, numbing any suspense from being formed by added details as the picture catches back up to itself.
Just as that structuring and a few edits later on are occasionally tiresome, many of the intricate happenings are either extraneous or underdeveloped. There is also an unusually high amount of characters, all with several lines of dialogue to overcrowd the running time. What could have been a fast-paced thriller leans more to the side of ploddingly amusing; it’s by no means an action-oriented project, but a few extra jolts of energy could have really spiced things up – or, surely some of the sequences could have been trimmed or cut altogether. Fortunately, Clooney’s performance is so engrossing that viewers will never tire of his formulaic pondering or his generic familial drama. What also works surprisingly well is the continually jittery score, which permeates every tiny element to amplify its impact and to give the myriad activities a sense of spontaneity.
The genre that “Michael Clayton” falls into is an often overwrought, overused one, but writer/director Tony Gilroy (in his directorial debut, having previously scripted the Jason Bourne trilogy) manages to give audiences something that never gets boring: Clooney at his brooding best and a solid drama with an ending as explosive as its beginning. And Clooney’s ambiguously scrupled centerpiece is the most unique aspect of the picture – a representation of only one side of the legal battle, or the demoralized, wrongheaded, conglomerate defenders who know their employers are certainly embroiled in corruption. Even the bad guys have good guys in their corner. Though the film’s faults may be numerous when scrutinized closely, the entertainment value remains high thanks to exceptional acting, sharp dialogue, and a methodic build to a slam-bang finish. Even if keeping track of all the characters and their involvements is a rather dizzying affair, there’s simply no forgetting Michael Clayton.
– The Massie Twins