Sunday, March 2, 2008


I had mixed feelings about Michael Clayton long before I finally saw it last week, which possibly made the let-down less of a plummet. I'm a sucker for paranoid conspiracy thrillers, the likes of which haven't really been seen since the 70s. Enemy of the State is the only recent movie I can think of that has successfully capitalized on the anxieties brought on by the merging of the Information Age with the meddlesome tendencies of human beings. Played by George Clooney -- in a solid performance though not an especially memorable one -- the title character of Michael Clayton, a "fixer" of dicey legal cases, watches his own smug circle of existence collapse over the span of a few days. Whatever tension there is in the movie evolves out of whether Clayton's own shaky ethics will also fall into the abyss.

But the air is let out of the premise by Tony Gilroy's screenwriting implausibilities -- namely that the plot hinges on a mentally unstable attorney having the kind of courtroom breakdown (screaming epithets, running around naked) that exists only in movies. What made me dread Michael Clayton was the casting of Tom Wilkinson as the loony lawyer. One of my least favorite actors, Wilkinson tears into the role with predictable grandstanding. Some scenery chewers are creative (Daniel Day-Lewis) or so naturally charismatic (Jack Nicholson) that I'm willing to give them a lot of line, but Wilkinson's choices are always thuddingly, grindingly obvious. Gilroy (who also directed) has given him some long-winded Peter Finch-style monologues, but there's no context for them other than the blatant attempt to earn an Oscar nomination. (Mission accomplished.) The surprisingly underpopulated cast, namely the always-game Tilda Swinton, does what it can; but in this dramatically inert film, it's a ridiculously oversized bag of baguettes -- upstaging even Wilkinson -- that makes the most lasting impression.


Wayne said...

"A picture is worth a thousand words": Tilda Swinton prepping in the restroom. The message from those scenes was so clear that a MapQuest wasn't required.

I wonder how many other restrooms have contributed to an actor being awarded a Supporting Oscar.

Great Post!

Craig said...

What message did you get from those scenes?

Wayne said...

The Corporate lawyer who Swinton played made intense preparations for wins at the podium. Later into the movie she was forced to change into a killing machine for more wins.

Unfortunately for her, the goons were able to get only 1 of the 2 required kills for a complete victory.

Gloria C said...

I agree with your remarks concerning Tom Wilkinson. If I had known, it would have been a no show for Michael Clayton.
This film might have been better served if Wilkinson's role had been eliminated.

He was in Full Monty, one of my favorites, but I'm unable to remember his character.

Sonja said...

Unbelievable that George Clooney gave a 119 minute performance without asking Danny Ocean for some conceited assistance.

His nomination was deserving.