Some of the best movies are those that present very ordinary stories
in an extraordinary way. "Michael Clayton" starring Oscar
winner George Clooney is such a movie. It is a simple story of an underdog
taking on a giant of an enemy.
To its benefit, the movie doesn't pander to the populist sentiment
but instead focuses on the details of the conflict and the degrees of
changes the characters go through.
Michael is a lawyer working with a firm where his specialty is cleaning
up legal messes of the rich before they become public. The first half
hour of the movie is plodding as it sets up the plot with numerous details.
We are only sucked into the story when an attempt has been made on Michael's
life. From there we are taken back to four days ago and find out that
Michael's firm U/North is about to settle a controversial case out of
court in its promotion of cancer-causing weed-killers.
Michael's colleague and friend Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has been
working on the case but has a very public breakdown. He threatens to
expose the firm and they try to hush him. Michael is soon dispatched
to calm Arthur and the firm hires no nonsense, tough, methodical counsel
(Tilda Swinton) to avoid a blow-up.
The movie is directed by Tony Gilroy and he has written the screenplay
as well. His past experience includes writing the screenplays for the
"Bourne" movies and this is his first directorial venture.
Gilroy clearly understands characters. The actors all get meaty parts
and they are brilliant in their execution. The strongest point of the
movie is probably Clooney's performance. He completely understands the
material and though he is a superstar, he serves the story and reins
in his performance.
He personifies quiet intensity and always remains just below the surface
without ever bursting out awkwardly or emotionally. His character is
also flawed and his back story with the gambling debts, failed marriage
and the son he is trying to win over, seems a little far fetched and
tacked on. But he rises above that and his character's nobility is evident
in every scene.
Swinton and Wilkinson put in stellar performances. Swinton plays the
tightly wound spinster Karen Crowder who has absolutely no social life.
Even in her personal moments, we find her rehearsing her lines she has
to present in the case. She is so wound up we expect her to unravel
any minute. Swinton manages to keep us on edge.
Wilkinson has a little bit more of a difficult role to work with. We
get to see the method behind the madness and the work he has put in
to present a credible case.
At times the movie feels like it is trying to crawl out from the heap
of details it is buried under. It seems so intent on telling the story
that it can feel flat at times. It doesn't try to be innovative.
"Michael Clayon" puts great faith in its story and characters.
For those who are tired of the cliché populist pap of the past,
"Michael Clayton" is a refreshing break even if it strives
too hard to be noble at times.