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Michael Clayton February 24, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Writer Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, The Bourne Trilogy) makes his directorial debut with Michael Clayton. An intellectual thriller with strong dramatic elements, this is just the sort of film that critics and film buffs will love but ordinary viewers might find it tedious.

Michael Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t go to court anymore. He is listed as special counsel for his firm and his job is to clean up the mess that is created by his firm’s big clients. His bosses refer to him as “miracle worker” while he is more pragmatic about his job as a “janitor” and to paraphrase him, the smaller the mess, the easier it is to clean. This time however, the mess isn’t small. A lawyer handling a big class action lawsuit suddenly develops a conscience that he can’t fight and decides to go against the company that he is representing. Clayton is sent to get the situation under control but can he? And more importantly, will he?

Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty, Shakespeare in Love) plays the lawyer who develops a conscience. His role is one that requires more discernable histrionics and can be easily susceptible to overacting but he doesn’t go overboard and you start believing he is crazy enough to do the right thing. Tilda Swinton (The Deep End, The Chronicles of Narnia), on the other hand, gets a role that requires a subtle performance and I really enjoyed her work. Even though her role is short, she gets some really good scenes to perform in. Sydney Pollack (the director of films like Out of Africa and Three Days of the Condor, who also apparently acts at times) is actually quite nice as the boss of the law firm where George Clooney works. Clooney, of course, plays Michael Clayton and he is solid in a role that is perfectly suited for him (but as he himself notes, he might lose the Oscar to Daniel Day Lewis).

Tony Gilroy’s screenplay is topnotch and he creates a great mood for this film as the director. He decides against a straight narrative and that makes the film more complicated. There is a lot that is conveyed through the dialogue and the viewer would need to connect the dots many a time. The viewer that stays with the film in the first half hour would be able to appreciate the rest. Many might question the need for such a narrative but it definitely serves a purpose. It brings all the primary characters and issues into focus in the early part of the film and then manages to keep your engrossed as you are trying to figure out how everything pans out and what it means. This, unfortunately, alienates many viewers as is clearly evident from the domestic gross (under $50 million).

If you are expecting this to be an exciting, crowd-pleasing thriller, you might be disappointed. If you are prepared for an intelligently-plotted conscientious legal thriller that requires you to pay rapt attention, this should definitely appeal to you. This is the sort of movie that you need to watch a second time to get the best out of it. Both as the writer and director, Gilroy has the choice to make this a crowd pleaser like Erin Brockovich but he doesn’t go that way. His goal doesn’t seem to be to please the audience or to educate them about how money can be more important to big companies than lives. Instead, he decides to investigate how morals can affect the decisions people take, influencing their lives and how situations in life can affect people’s morals. Reliving the film from this perspective can keep you thinking for a long time.

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