Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: "Michael Clayton" is a Powerful Social Drama (Happy B'day to Goddess, Tilda Swinton)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 15 (of 2008) by Leroy Douresseaux

Michael Clayton (2007)
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
MPAA – R for language including some sexual dialogue
PRODUCERS: Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent, Sydney Pollack, and Steve Samuels
EDITOR: John Gilroy
2008 Academy Award winner


Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Michael O’Keefe, Austin Williams, Ken Howard, Robert Prescott, Terry Serpico, Sean Cullen, and David Lansbury

In screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, his debut as a film director, a burned out corporate lawyer who has built a career on cleaning up his clients’ messes faces his biggest mess when a guilt-ridden colleague threatens the settlement of a multi-million-dollar case. Gilroy is best known for writing the three Jason Bourne films, including most recently, The Bourne Ultimatum.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an in-house “fixer” or “bagman” at Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. A former criminal prosecutor, Clayton is burned out and hardly content with his job as a fixer, but his divorce, a failed business venture, and mounting debt have left Clayton inextricably tied to the firm. The firm is defending U/North (United Northfield) a giant corporation in a multimillion dollar class action lawsuit, but Kenner, Bach & Ledeen’s brilliant litigator, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has a meltdown that threatens to upend a potential settlement entirely in favor of the plaintiffs against U/North.

Clayton faces the biggest challenge of his career and life to reign in Edens. Meanwhile, U/North’s general counsel, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who operates on a hair-trigger, knows that her career rests on the multi-million dollar settlement that once seemed to be heading to a successful conclusion for U/North. Edens’ rogue status means that Crowder may have to take matters into her own ruthless hands.

At one point in Michael Clayton, Sydney Pollack’s Marty Bach says, “People are fucking incomprehensible,” and that seems to be one of the dominant themes of Gilroy’s absolutely gripping legal thriller. Sure, Michael Clayton is an exposé of what evil corporations can do (poison their customers) and the way corporate law firms help them get away with it. The greed, the lies, and the under-the-table murder-for-hire deals are in evidence here, and while we’ve seen this in other muckraking dramas, what sets Michael Clayton apart is that we’re watching a film about people and not just characters.

It is in these people we see both the beauty and ugliness of humanity. We can admire how George Clooney’s Michael Clayton chases his ideals even if no one else believes in them or even if those ideals are the antithesis of others’ beliefs. The manner in which Gilroy tackles such mature themes through his star Clooney makes this an accomplished movie for adults. It’s a crackling delight full of standout performances including Tom Wilkinson’s Oscar-nominated turn as Arthur Edens and Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance as the neurotic viper Karen Crowder.

And Clooney: what can I say? He’s a movie star in the Old Hollywood tradition and also an exceptional actor that modern American filmmaking would be lost without.

9 of 10

2008 Academy Awards: 1 win for “Best Performance by Actress in a Supporting Role” (Tilda Swinton); 6 nominations: “Best Achievement in Directing,” “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (James Newton Howard), “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox, and Kerry Orent), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (George Clooney), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Tom Wilkinson), “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen”

2008 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Supporting Actress” (Tilda Swinton); 4 nominations: “Best Editing” (John Gilroy), “Best Leading Actor” (George Clooney), “Best Screenplay – Original” (Tony Gilroy), and “Best Supporting Actor” (Tom Wilkinson)

2008 Golden Globes: 4 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (George Clooney), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Tom Wilkinson), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Tilda Swinton)

Thursday, March 20, 2008


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