Film Score: James Newton Howard Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack
Michael Clayton is a very good film. But it’s not a great film, which is probably what kept it from winning an Academy Award in 2007, even though the field that year was fairly weak. One of the great aspects of the film, however, is the character development of George Clooney who has intensified his portrayals by eliminating much of the comedy element. In terms of character, this film can be seen as the precursor to The American and The Descendants, and one hopes that this will eventually lead to Oscar success for Clooney.
Tony Gilroy’s career as a writer in Hollywood since 1992 has been fruitful, writing many thrillers, including all of the Bourne franchise. But his three turns as a director have been brilliant. Michael Clayton was his first, no doubt thanks to Clooney, and since then he has gone on to direct the wonderful Duplicity, as well as the latest Bourne film, The Bourne Legacy. He has a unique style that still adheres to expectations of the genre, and at the same time is able evoke a realism that is absent in similar stories like The Firm. The film also benefits tremendously by the interesting editing by his brother, John Gilroy. This is one of Clooney’s projects, as he now has the clout to chose his own scripts and produce the films that he wants to make and star in.
In many ways Michael Clayton can be seen as a typical corporate thriller, but it’s anything but typical. It begins with the voice-over of Tom Wilkinson representing the moral conscience of the film--and of course, who is then painted by the corporate world as insane. Clooney plays the fixer for a huge law firm who needs their lead council, Wilkinson, to stop before they lose a huge case. What’s brilliant about the script is Clooney’s utter impotence when he comes up against people who act like people--that is to say, unpredictably--instead of the robot-like corporate drones he used to dealing with. The new head of the corporation being sued, Tilda Swinton, takes matters into her own hands, hires a team of hit men, and proceeds to kill everyone standing in her way. But she misses Clooney and, Bourne-like, he begins to exact retribution for a life of commitment to an corporate world that has absolutely no loyalty to him.
I’ll tell you right now, I absolutely love Tilda Swinton. I think she’s one of the greatest actresses of our time. But how she won the Oscar for best supporting actress with such minimal screen time and a one-dimensional character is a mystery right up there with Beatrice Straight in Network, who won after being in the film for less than six minutes. As I said before, Clooney, ditching the humor, has a lot to offer. His intensity is impressive and, though it might take a few more years, he’s definitely going to do some Oscar winning work in the near future. Tom Wilkinson is his usual wonderful self, and Sydney Pollack, in his swan song, is incredibly moving. Michael Clayton is not fast paced, or full of action. It is simply a tension filled thriller that delivers drama and mystery in equal doses and is incredibly impressive in nearly every aspect of the film.