Deeper Into Movies: Michael Clayton (2007)

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

There’s a George Clooney we all know and love: In his role as Danny Ocean, the greying former Sexiest Man Alive is both charming and authorative, a clenched fist within a velvet glove. He never fights anyone in Ocean’s 11 or its sequels; everything is too elaborate and Hollywood-ending perfect for him to have to. Michael Clayton doesn’t knock anybody out either, but you get the feeling he’d tear Ocean in half. Michael Clayton is the story of a man thrown to the wolves and told to deal with it by the end of the week, a polar opposite to the everything-falling-into-place dominoes of this summer’s Ocean’s 13. It’s a terse, white-knuckled film, all tension and a slowly unraveling plot that never makes anything easy.

Perhaps a comparison with his criminal counterpart is too easy, but this is certainly a different Clooney. [Continue reading…]

He looks the part, a picture of exhaustion etched out in shadowed eyes and a knitted brow. He reminds one of a long-forgotten Spider-Man arc from the early ’90s: “Beware the Rage of a Desperate Man.” His titular character is a fixer, a behind-the-scenes wheel-greaser for a law firm on the brink of an international merger. Without revealing too much, Clayton is pushed to his limits; he shoulders the burden of a drug addict brother and weighty problems of his own beyond the routine stress of dealing with clients driving into pedestrians, manic-depressive lawyers and a $3 billion class action suit with an ethical dilemma big enough to kill off a farmhouse or two. All in a day’s work.

The film opens with a heart-racing introduction before flashing back four days, leaving the audience to puzzle out why Clayton’s car has just exploded in a pristine field in upstate New York. The answers come slowly and carefully (if with an initially off-putting strangeness), provided with enough realistic suspense and subtlety to arrive before the characters receive them, if you watch closely enough. Cinematically, the film echoes the bleak colors of Michael Mann’s The Insider, a similarly suspenseful, focused narrative that also locked onto its lead (Russell Crowe, in his best role) and never let go.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as the manic-depressive lawyer who goes off his medication and discovers the truth, as is Tilda Swinton as a nervous wreck of a corporate climber, but this is Clooney’s movie. He earns it without even throwing a punch.


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