' Cinema Romantico: Michael Clayton

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Michael Clayton

This film - the title referring to a "fixer" at a prestigous law firm - will undoubtedly be referred to as a thriller. Perhaps a legal thriller. I think of it as something else - an opera. Go with me on this. The ever "reliable" wikipedia advises that in an opera "the singers convey the drama". Yes, "Michael Clayton" has a story and a plot and all that but in this movie it is the actors that convey the drama.

George Clooney is the title character. And because he's played by George Clooney you may be prepared to assume he possesses oodles of money, a stunning wife, an immaculate career, and the ability to never make a wrong decision. You would be wrong. He's got some baggage. Problems with a brother. He needs money (a great deal of it). At the start of the film he is summoned to assist a wealthy man just involved in a hit and run. The man claims he was told to expect a miracle. "I'm not a miracle worker," says Clayton. "I'm a janitor." This is a fantastic beginning. Or is it the beginning? Well, you'll just have to go and see, won't you? (And you should go see. No arguments.)

From that point the movie progresses to show us what we know from the film's preview - one of the law firm's partners Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has apparently just gone crazy and stripped down to nothing at a deposition in Milwaukee. It is all on videotape. Thus, Michael Clayton has to go to work in cleaning up a very public mess. Also concerned is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), the chief legal counsel of a chemical company for whom Edens was handling a class action lawsuit. It seems Edens has been doing some research in regards to the company he is supposedly defending and is ready to blow the proverbial whistle on them. She is not about to let this happen.

But none of that really has anything to do with anything. Writer/director Tony Gilroy has no interest (none!) in just rushing things along, focusing only on pesky plot, and following the story beat-by-beat. He has an interest in conveying the drama. An example: a scene early on shows Swinton's character preparing all by herself for an interview. But watch how Gilroy films it - he skips around in time. She's in her room, then at a different place in her room, then it's the interview itself, then back to the room, so on and so forth. A normal movie would have just shown the interview itself or maybe just have cut this scene completely since it's reason for existing is solely character. This is exemplary filmmaking.

The acting is absolutely top-notch. The character of Michael Clayton is extremely well drawn and Clooney's performance only elevates it. Wilkinson is superb, playing his character in such a way that you never quite know if he is crazy or has had the moment of clarity. Swinton's turn is a miracle of physical acting. The reactions, tics, mannerisms - all a sight to behold. There is a scene near the end between Clooney and Swinton that conjures up thoughts of Jordan and Bird playing one-on-one. Two fantastic actors going head-to-head, upping one another with each line reading. Astonishing stuff.

And the end? It comes right when it should and not a second later. Beautiful. Again, a conventional movie would have done something different. A lotta' pomp, and you'll know when you see it where they could have gone, and you will be oh so grateful they didn't.

Who does what? Why are they doing it? What happens when they do it? It all means something, I suppose, but set aside a night this week to go to theater and watch "Michael Clayton". That's it. Just watch it. Nothing more - meaning don't ask the above questions as it progresses. Only watch. Let it absorb you.

When a great tenor is belting out an aria you don't don't ask questions about where the opera itself is going. You just listen. Right?

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