Michael Clayton (2007)
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sean Cullen, Michael O’Keefe, Sydney Pollack
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
I’ve spent the past week since having seen Michael Clayton trying to come to terms with how a movie that left so little impact or impression on me has wound up receiving near universal praise. It’s certainly not a bad movie, but I promise you, it’s not as great a movie as critics would have you belief it is either.
The answer I came up with is that Michael Clayton is the kind of movie that used to dominate the cineplex landscape but has all but disappeared of late: the mid-budget adult thriller. With the cost of movies rising, studios basically offer three kinds of movies: the low budget “indie” (distributed by their boutique divisions), the low budget genre movie (horror or comedy), or the big budget tentpole blockbuster. The result has been that there are less and less movies being made for adults, featuring adults doing adult things, so a movie like Michael Clayton ends up looking fresh and original, whereas ten years ago it would have seemed like more of the same.
Tony Gilroy‘s directorial debut follows Michael Clayton (George Clooney), a fixer for a high-powered law firm. Clayton is brought in to do damage control when his mentor and colleague Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) breaks down during a deposition for their biggest client, putting the class action suit he was working on in jeopardy. While trying to bring Arthur in line, Clayton begins to discover how dirty his job can be, and questions how low he is willing to go in order to do it.
The movie basically plays out like a standard John Grisham movie, without actually being a Grisham movie, with well-heeled lawyers dealing with machinations of law firms and big corporations. If you’ve seen similar lawyer/big corporation movies, then this movie won’t hold a lot of surprises for you and you should be able to see where it’s headed every step of the way. Gilroy, who wrote and directed the movie, loses the plot throughout the movie, wasting time on unnecessary scenes focused on Clayton’s family life, failed business dealings, and gambling problem, probably as a means to get star Clooney more time on screen, but resulting in a movie that is probably 20 minutes overlong.
The resulting effort is a workmanlike thriller whose profile is raised slightly by the gravitas given to it be its accomplished cast. Clooney is solid as the lead, Tilda Swinton is solid as the chief consul for the corporation in question, Sydney Pollack puts in his standard air of dignity in a supporting role, and Wilkinson is pretty good as the erratic Edens who sets the movie into motion. But none raise the movie to the level of the praise its been getting, resulting in a decent, albeit largely forgettable, adult thriller.