Saturday, September 29, 2007

MICHAEL CLAYTON - innovative, intelligent morality tale

I am Shiva, God of Death.Let me be clear: MICHAEL CLAYTON is one of the best films I have seen this year. Every facet of the film drips with quality, intelligence and integrity.

George Clooney goes into unfamiliar territory, thankfully miles away from the self-consciously cool Danny Ocean. He plays a one-time litigating attorney called Michael Clayton. Clayton now spends his time cleaning up behind big clients. He's been cleaned out by gambling debts and a restaurent project that failed. He's a divorced father and he has an uneasy relationship with his family. Indeed, in all but the denouement, Clooney spends his time looking bewildered and borderline disgusted with himself and the pathetic hoops he has to jump through. It's an impressive performance, not least in the final scene where the camera holds on a close-up of Clooney's face as he digests the events of the film. There's no dialogue and no let up: just the opening credits rolling over the end of the film.

The bones of the film concern Clooneey's character dealing with a leading litigator who's seemingly lost his marbles in court. His only job is to get the litigator back on his meds and back defending a big corporate client from a $3bn class action lawsuit. The corporate client is particularly ruthless about ensuring a beneficial outcome.

But the real business of this film is to show how each of the main characters comes to a brutal realisation about the nature of the corporate world and their part in it. Michael Clayton is a man who realised that he has been bought and for a cheap price, at that. The litigator - played by Tom Wilkinson - realises that he has wasted six years of his life defending a case he doesn't believe in - and that this is representative of corporate America. Perhaps the most intriguing character, though, is Tilda Swinton's corporate council, Karen Crowder. She begins as a nervous businesswomen, eager to impress and to look the part. Her imperceptible slide from conscientious legal advice to protecting the firm at all costs is deftly portrayed thanks to assured editing and a subtle performance.

Every member of the cast gives a subtle and authoritative performance, from Austin Williams, who plays Clayton's kid, to Sydney Pollack who plays the leading partner of the firm. Behind the camera, I loved the way in which the shots were framed, usually looking through doors or windows and around corners. I loved the misty, gloomy lighting contrasted with the guiltless wealth of rich corporate interiors. And I love that Tony Gilroy's script never over-explains and doesn't hope to see every plot strand to a neat conclusion. Most of all, I love that MICHAEL CLAYTON is not another slick but tired court-room thriller but a patient and brilliantly put-together character study. We need more cinema of this calibre.

MICHAEL CLAYTON played Venice and Toronto 2007 and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Italy and the US next week and in Argentina, Hong Kong, Denmark, wide in the US, in France, Australia and Iceland the following week. It opens in Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway on October 25th and in Turkey, Germany, Spain, Finland, Russia in November. It opens in Egypt on January 23rd 2008 and in Japan on February 23rd 2008.

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