Howie’s movie review: ‘Michael Clayton’ a thought-provoking drama
What do you do when your first motion picture is possibly an Oscar contender for Best Picture, with nominations for some of its actors? Pray that lightning strikes twice when your next project gets released.
Such is the case with writer/director Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut, “Michael Clayton,” as it opens wide this weekend. My second 5 out of 5 bagel rating this year (Michael Moore’s “Sicko” was the other), “Michael Clayton” boasts one of the strongest ensemble casts, with virtually every performance a stand-out piece of work.
As usual, it appears that George Clooney has chosen yet another movie that shows not just his range of emotions as an actor but, more important, his knack for tackling topics with a social conscience in the eye of the hurricane of big government and/or corporations. (Actually, the business interests of corporations actually run governments, don’t they?)
Just when you assumed that the studios were turning out movies that lowered the intelligence factor, along comes a movie that is able to successfully combine a relevant story that makes you think and want to talk about with other filmgoers, acting that sells the story and enough drama and suspense to choke a water buffalo.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that the film’s director is also an ace writer with a proven track record that allows him the freedom to take chances with a smart script and top notch actors at his disposal. As a writer Tony Gilroy was responsible for the trilogy of Bourne films (“The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy” and most recently “The Bourne Ultimatum”), “Dolores Claiborne,” “Armageddon,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Proof of Life,” to name but a few.
Clooney plays Michael Clayton, the man the corporate bosses turn to when it comes to fixing a mess either with a client or to protect the image of the corporation. He works for the prestigious New York law firm of Kenner, Bach & Leeden literally as their in-house “fixer.” From the onset of the movie you’re riveted by the action which then turns into a thriller at how those responsible for said events are so easily covered up. It soon becomes very clear that those with the resources at hand control the outcome of justice when you realize that justice can be bought for a price.
If this sounds like a page from today’s headlines you’re correct and Gilroy let’s the observer feel uncomfortable knowing that justice may be blind but has pockets to fill that overcompensate that disability. Powerful from beginning to end “Michael Clayton” keeps stacking layers upon layers of nerve shattering scenarios that lead up to the improbable.
The improbable happens at the agrichemical conglomerate known as U/North, a client of Clayton’s firm. With a mega multi-million dollar class action settlement resting on the shoulders (well, rather pounding actually) on their chief council, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) Clayton’s firm is in the final stages of what appears to be yet another no-brainer to protect both their client’s interest. This is where one individual, in a moment of self realization, has an epiphany as to what he has done with his life and its effect on others.
Kenner, Bach & Ledeen’s top litigator, Arthur Edens (played by the incredibly versatile actor Tom Wilkinson), becomes a man with a conscience suffering a mental breakdown that could ruin the entire U/North case. Enter Michael Clayton to do is usual clean up work but this time in doing so comes to realize that there are real people behind the numbers that don’t quite add up. But at what cost to his own life with personal demons and mounting debts?
“Michael Clayton” floored me, and there’s more than enough talent shared throughout the movie, even those relegated to lesser screen time all have an important part to play, making the bigger picture just that: bigger.
One such performance was by Sydney Pollack as the senior law partner, Marty Bach. I wish the movie was part of every business college/law firm curriculum on ethics, because even if the bottom line rules, there comes a point when you look back on your existence at some point and ask yourself if it was really worth it.
” Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including Sirius Radio.-He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush”-on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you-can see his film reviews on RSN.
Keepin’ it reel:
Now Playing: “Michael Clayton”
Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Michael O’Keefe, Sydney Pollack, Danielle Skraastad, Tilda Swinton and George Clooney
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Rated: R for language, including some sexual dialogue
Running time: 2 hours
Howie gives it: 5 out of 5 bagels