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Michael Clayton was, overall, a pretty big disappointment to me. It
starts off relatively strong with some very interesting exposition.
However, by the middle, it became a bit muddled and off course. Instead
of relying on characterization, which it could have easily done, the
film focuses on twists that have been seen before and an under use of
some serious acting talent.
Without giving too much away, I'll say that this more a story of ethics than other typical lawyer movies. In this respect, Michael Clayton offers a fresh perspective. That's about as far as the creative aspects go. George Clooney plays a forty-five year old "miracle worker" lawyer named Michael Clayton. Michael is a lawyer known for cleaning up messes. He even refers to himself and others as "janitors" rather than lawyers. At the beginning, Michael is bailing his colleague, Arthur, out of jail for indecent exposure. Arthur, once a renowned lawyer, has become guilt stricken and obsessed with a case and one of its plaintiffs. The case involves the death and poisoning of a substantial amount of people due to a weed killer. The lawsuit is against an agricultural company, U North, whose legal counsel is the brilliant Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). Things go awry quickly and the struggle for power and money seem to head up the actions of these underdeveloped characters.
The main problem I had with this film was the fact that it tried way too hard to shove in several subplots that the film could have easily done without. These side stories weakened the film and, without them, the intensity of the plot could have easily been increased. Michael Clayton was a cool guy, but the scenes involving his son and brother were completely unnecessary. One could argue that these scenes characterized Michael, but I'd disagree. The scenes, especially the ones with his son, were of no real use to the film.
As far as acting goes, the cast here is top notch. Clooney turned in, arguably, the least stunning performance. Michael Clayton failed to make an impression on me as a character until the last few minutes of the film. I'm not saying that George Clooney was bad, but nothing about his portrayal made the character memorable or interesting. He redeems himself slightly in the last few scenes, showing more emotion there than throughout the whole thing. Tilda Swinton is a great actress and did well with the material she was given. The problem was that the material she was given is very limited. The film could have done something great with her character, but instead just left it kind of in the air. We see her practicing a speech before she gives it, showing a more vulnerable, less confident side than she actually shows when speaking in public. But the characterization ends there, leaving the viewer with no one to really care about or be interested in. I'm of the opinion that the best performance of the film was that of Tom Wilkinson as the guilt-ridden Arthur. Wilkinson manages to steal every scene he's a part of. It's a shame that he did not receive more screen time.
Perhaps I built it up too much, given the good reviews and Oscar nominations, but I fail to see how Michael Clayton is anything more than a typical legal film that tries too hard to be an edgy thriller. It's watchable, but rather mediocre and dull. Aside from some decent supporting performances and a pretty decent ending, Michael Clayton is nothing to get excited about.
Michael Clayton is a fixer for a large law firm, operating off the
radar and "handling" situations rather than being directly involved in
them. In his own life though, things do not come as easy as he tries to
bail out his brother's losses and cope with his own crumbling morality.
A car bomb is not his epiphany but rather comes at the end of four days
where his work and life are called into question.
The starry cast and the Oscar for Swinton perhaps gave this film more kudos that it actually got at the box office as it did seem to come and go quite quickly with solid but unremarkable reviews. Watching it for myself what I found was just that a solid and entertaining film but not one that is really as good as the slick and professional veneer would have you believe. The story is one of corruption and power within a corporation and the legal teams it employs to protect it from its actions and to be honest from the start you can see the narrative arch unfolding in front of you. This is its biggest failing I think, because it is just not as smart as it wants or needs to be and seems content to just exist in the sweep rather than the detail. It starts with us never fully understanding Clayton's job the character really needed one strong scene to show his ruthless skills and the hit and run stuff at the start is not it.
This continues with the main story which is not as morally complex as it would like to believe. Crowder is the only character that is interesting in her actions and shows how quickly it s to lose your soul. For the same reason I didn't totally buy Clayton's reverse journey as it seemed too easy and quick. These problems aside though, it is a polished and well-made thriller that screams quality from every other pore. The direction and cinematography are really slick, a bit heartless perhaps but slick nonetheless. The cast is starry in depth, even if the characters and material isn't there for all of them. Clooney leans the cast with his trademark suave and cool toughness. Swinton is good but I was surprised by how small her role was considering her Oscar; she does provide a real person in the role though and in a way she was good enough to deserve more screen time. Pollack and Wilkinson add class and for HBO fans there are a few Wire and Sopranos actors in the mix as well (just to clarify, I don't get paid each time I get The Wire into a review it just seems that I do).
Michael Clayton is slick, polished and enjoyable but yet not as smart or fulfilling as the appearance of quality would make the viewer hope. I was glad I watched it but the complexity, moralising and characterisation that it suggested it should have never turned up in any significant measure. Close. No Cigar.
If there was ever any doubt that George Clooney (GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD
LUCK) is more than just a pretty face, MICHAEL CLAYTON should put them
to rest. Although women across the world will probably still drool at
his magnetism here in this film, he pulls this engrossing movie along
and carries most if not all of its weight.
The story surrounds a pair of attorneys, Michael Clayton (Clooney) and Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE) who are employed as "janitors" at a powerhouse law firm. The "janitor lawyers" clean up messes left by their clients. But when Arthur (Wilkinson) appears to have a mental break during a multimillion dollar negotiations with a pesticide company (shades of THE FUTURE OF FOOD documentary and the Monsanto Corporation are easily seen), Michael is sent in to try and clean up the debacle. But big business, along with Arthur and Michael's firm, are concerned and have clean-up ideas of their own. Hit men, the burning of document warehouses, and even exploding cars are not beyond the realm of dangers facing Mr. Clayton.
Definitely in the vein of ERIN BROKOVICH, but this film's focus is not on the ones represented by the attorney's firm and, instead, on the attorneys themselves. Morality and money are the two at-odds items, which is also nothing new to film. But what holds Michael Clayton together is the powerful performances by Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton (THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA), and, of course, Mr. Clooney. Wilkinson's disastrous decent into seeming madness holds a kernel of sympathy and understanding for the viewer. His life, decade upon decade, has been devoted to making and saving money for his firm, but at what moral cost? Coming to the end of his career, the weight of his decisions are heavy upon him and we can feel his dire wish to find a smidgin of good in his final days ("I am Shiva, the god of death.") Tilda Swinton plays Karen Crowder, the firm's new lead attorney for the case abandoned by Arthur (Wilkinson). Her need to win the case overpowers commonsense and even legalities and, in the end, gets the better of her.
And then there's Michael Clayton (Clooney) who sees much of himself in Arthur, wondering if this is what awaits him at the end of his career. But there's also Michael's personal life that infringes upon the entire story loop. His son Henry (Austin Williams, THE GOOD SHEPHERD) wants desperately to connect with his father but both have trouble finding common ground; Michael because of his forced amount of time on the job, and Henry because of a fantasy life (see role playing game) that he wants to include his father in. Michael's old gambling habit has also reemerged causing him many a financial woe and forcing another morality play that bites him in the bum when asking for an advance from his boss.
The downsides to the film are that it's pretty standard Hollywood fodder as far as movies go, and the ending was a bit too tidy and convenient. I never understood how Michael knew where to find Karen Crowder and when she'd be having a meeting with "the big client".
Even so, this is a good character story with enough good dialogue and great acting to keep most watchers entertained. And if you're a Clooney fan, you can drool a bit more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have seen all 5 Best Picture nominees (the first time in years for
me) and this is the only one that just left me speechless at the end.
In less than 15 minutes or so of screen time Tilda Swinton brilliantly captures the complex essence of a weak, tormented, and probably fundamentally immoral person. Every second she was on screen was riveting and her Oscar is well deserved.
I loved so much about this film, including Sydney Pollack's natural style and Tom Wilkinson's brilliant depiction of a relapsed manic (or was he really?) who was clearly more visionary than madman.
The last few minutes are certainly the most dramatically intense I have experienced in a film in long time, so much so that in final credits cab ride with the title character I found myself close to tears as I tried to sort through the intense and ambivalent emotions.
And even though you can't dispute that Day-Lewis was born to win the Oscar he took here, our friend George is no slouch either, and his negotiation of the moral ambiguities of his oddly likable character is second only to Tilda Swinton's performance.
Not a perfect film, but I do give it 10 in an effort to influence the score. This film certain deserves to crack the Top 250, almost certainly moreso than the hip and quaint little Juno and the sweeping yet emotionally empty Atonement.
Yesterday evening I watched Michael Clayton. It is a good film, but not
a great film; certainly not a film that deserves an Oscar nomination. I
would rate Eastern Promises and American Gangster several notches
higher and both of them do not figure in this year's nominations.
Michael Clayton is about the mess in the morals and ethics of the American legal system or for that matter anywhere in the world, where the moneyed rich always try to hush up the truth, whatever it may take that to do. The premise of the film cannot be faulted, but the execution is flawed.
Michael Clayton is supposed to be going through a personal crisis, but George Clooney, who essays the role, wearing a deadpan expression for most of the film, is unable to project it with conviction. Now that is not great acting, is it? Yet he has surprisingly earned an Oscar. One of the big failures of the film is that we can't empathize with any of the characters; not with Clayton's good friend who suffers a mental breakdown on learning the truth of the product of an agrochemical company that he is defending in a billion dollar class suit. The lady CEO of the company sweats in her armpits when she is hatching her sinister plots, but leaves us cold.
The editor of the film seems to be overly obsessed with his craft. During the transitions the soundtrack precedes the scene, a ploy that is very effective in breathlessly paced thrillers, but jarring in a film like this. And there are those back and forth cuts between the CEO rehearsing her lines in front of a mirror and actually giving an interview to the television channel. It is plain irritating.
The director needlessly tries to dramatize the storytelling instead of sticking to the good old-fashioned narration. The lengthy flashback and then the epilogue were unwarranted. What do we make of those three horses? Metaphors and metaphysics clearly have no place in a film like this. The politically correct ending leaves an uncomfortable feeling as you walk out after 120 minutes.
But all this should take nothing away from the fact that Michael Clayton is a good film, one that deserves to be seen for its subject matter.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILER ALERT This is a very entertaining film - and entirely enjoyable while you're watching it - but the plot really does not make a lot of sense if you give it close scrutiny. SPOILERS AHEAD - While the document that Clayton finds is certainly damaging evidence, given the facts of this case, the plaintiffs should have been able to win it without that document. If the defendants wanted to hush things up, I don't think a car bomb would be the way to go. There are a number of ways the bad guys could have killed someone and at least made an attempt for it to look like an accident. Finally, the woman in charge of the law firm was not the type of take charge, confident, shark-type she would need to be to rise to that position. Yes, MICHAEL CLAYTON is a very entertaining firm to watch - but the "logic" falls apart if you think about it afterward.
I quite enjoyed this movie, its a slow mover , but it does eventually get to where its going. George Clooney plays the role of Michael Clayton -a legal firms downtrodden dogs body.While struggling to juggle the many aspects of his life- friends , family , money , and work he becomes involved in the dark underworld of business. What I enjoyed about this movie is that it does not spoon feed its audience the story and characters. At the same time though , this is a flaw in the film as it at times seams clumsy and slightly disjointed. For example we see a few scenes involving Clooney and his family , but not enough is revealed to give the audience an insight into the dynamics of the family. We here that he is an intelligent man , but we don't see him excelling in intelligence. We see him struggling to run is business ,but are not shown enough of this struggle. Etc...etc... As a result of this , by the end of the movie ,you are left with the feeling that you don't know Michael Clayton any better than you did after the first 10 minutes of the film. Overall what makes this film good is the story and performance by the cast, but i was left with the feeling that it could have benefited at times if it had adopted a bit more of a direct "slap bang" approach
From the beginning you are shown a character (Clooney) who although a
lawyer from a prominent Law firm is anything but within the Law.
Interrupted at a late night illegal card game, he visits a recent hit and run driver, advising him on what actions to take, before the police are even investigating. Then after a brief drive to clear his head his car explodes! 4 Days earlier.....
This film is the story of the 4 days in the life of a 'fixer' from a law firm, dealing with a failed partnership in a bar with his drug addicted brother, raising the funds to pay off a loan shark, whilst at the same time dealing with a major client whose illegal dumping of chemicals has led to a potential liability of 3 billion dollars.
The case has been dragging on for some 9 years and the lead council for the defence, a manic depressive, has gone off his medication and had a breakdown during a deposition. Worse than that he has apparently had a crisis of conscience and has assembled the evidence to prove the case for the plaintiff.
So, is it any good? Well yes and no! The film is really split in two, the private and public life of Michael Clayton. The failed business of the bar, the breakdown of his family relationships along with an increasing sense of isolation at work all make for a compelling story that doesn't quite deliver on its emotional potential.
The understated performance of Clooney (Devoid of his usual smirk) distances you from the main character, who quite simply could never be a sympathetic hero anyway. His business is and has been for a long time correcting and sorting out the mistakes of others. And as a defence attorney we all know what a bastard he must have been, totally unredeemable.
Whilst at the same time Tilda Swinton (woefully underused by Hollywood) presents a baffling performance of a rabbit trapped in the head lights. Where was the sharp, ambitious devious, vicious bitch that this character should have been. Instead we see a woman wrecked with self doubt and an unhealthy looking sweating problem.
This should have been a great film, the premise was good, the actors were fine, the script didn't quite hold up and the direction wasn't sharp enough, but its still worth a watch.
Michael Clayton (2007)
** (out of 4)
George Clooney plays the title character, a "fixer" for various law firms whose latest case might just destroy everyone involved including himself. One of the firms lawyers (Tom Wilkinson) has a breakdown and starts revealing information, which could ruin the company he's been hired to defend. The more he talks the more danger he puts himself in so it's up to Clayton to try and shut him up but soon his own morals are called into play. Here we have yet another contender for the most disappointing film of the year. I know it's been getting some great reviews but I found the film incredibly slow, boring and just not that interesting. If it weren't for the great cast then the film would have been a lot worse but thankfully the acting doesn't let the viewer down unlike the screenplay and direction. Clooney is terrific in his role bringing that certainly cool and calm attitude to the character. I loved the way Clooney played the role here where his emotions and facial gestures never change no matter what he's going through. Wilkinson is also very good in his role coming off very intense and crazy but at the same time totally believable as someone wanting to do what's right. Sydney Pollack is also very good in his small role. What really kills the film is its screenplay, which adds way too many side stories that are all boring and add nothing to the film. There's a subplot dealing with Clayton's druggie brother, his son and a business he started that has gone under. This adds nothing to the film and nothing to the character of Clayton so all of this was quite worthless. Even the actual case isn't all that interesting and it never grabbed my attention or interest. The direction is rather weak as Tony Gilroy never gets any suspense or tension going, which isn't good for a thriller. Clooney, Anthony Minghella, Pollack and Steven Soderbergh are just some of the names that served as producers on this thing and any of them could have done better but you gotta wonder how they all approved this screenplay.
This film reminds me of Network and also of a John Grisham adaptation. I guess it's hard to think of anybody other than John Grisham when your dealing with a serious conspiracy story based around lawyers, but if only Michael Clayton were a John Grisham book then perhaps it might have worked. The story behind this film and its ending is quite good, it's only that the majority of this film bores the heck out of you! This is Tony Gilroy's directing debut (he was the screenwriter on the Bourne films) and his screenplay for it is not his most impressive work. With such producers attached to this project as Clooney (he also stars as the lead role), Sydney Pollack (who also plays a supporting role), Anthony Minghella (director of Cold Mountain, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley), and Steven Soderbergh (director of the Ocean's films and Traffic) I would expect maybe something at least worth watching. The best part about this film is the supporting performance by Tom Wilkinson. Otherwise this film might leave you with a good feeling because of its ending, which would be good if it was supported by the rest of the film, but if this film bores me- and I'm not easily bored by movies- then I can't image much of modern A.D.D. audience being able to watch this film. It certainly doesn't deserve any of the Oscars it was nominated for.
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