Friday, January 25, 2008

Michael Clayton

“I’m not a miracle worker; I’m the janitor.”

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a lawyer, though not in the traditional public perception of the term. Michael doesn’t practice law, he doesn’t show up in court, and he doesn’t work on legal documents behind the scenes. Michael is the firm’s “fixer” who comes in to solve problems. Some refer to him as a miracle worker but in his own words he’s a bag man, a janitor who is called in to clean up the mess. And he’s the best at what he does.

The firm’s latest problem involves its senior litigating partner Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a manic depressive off his medication who seems to have lost his mind. After Arthur undresses in a deposition and proclaims his love to the plaintiff (Merrit Weaver) in a three-billion dollar case which in which he is defending U-North, a company who is merging with his law firm, Michael is sent to straighten his friend out. But the more time he spends on the case the more questions are raised about the cause of his friend’s behavior and the validity of the plaintiff’s claims.

The performances are all top-notch. Clooney carries the film and the supporting cast from Wilkinson, to Weaver, to Sydney Pollack are all worth mentioning. Tilda Swinton, as the head honcho for U-North is the only character who I found a little thinly written. Although the entire company is complicit in their crime the film highlights her as a lone villain in the piece and forces her to make continually odd and increasingly illogical and evil choices (which no one questions or seems to have any trouble following).

The film also contains subplots which include Michael’s failed bar, his rocky relationship with his brother (David Lansbury), and his son’s (Austin Williams) obsession with a book. None of these three threads are explored as exhaustively as I would have liked but each adds something to the picture of who Michael Clayton is.

My major complaint with the film is in the editing and scoring of the film. The film begins with a short sequence designed to illustrate the type of person and lawyer Michael Clayton is before jumping back into a prolonged flashback which takes up 80-90% of the film before coming back to these original scenes. Although I understand the reasoning of using this scene to showcase and introduce the character, I’m not a big fan of this technique and would have preferred to simply learn about who Michael Clayton is over the course of the film. Using this scene from later in the film also brings up some editing issues. The scene where Michael drives home from his meeting with a client through the woods includes an ominous background score that doesn’t fit the scene (that is until we see the reasons behind it over an hour later into the film). I found it odd and distracting and a little insulting for the film to use the score to tell me how to feel and when to feel it rather than simply to help enhance and tell the story. I can only assume someone thought the writing wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own in certain sequences (or was too lazy or incompotent to make necessary changes when scenes were moved or repeated), and that’s a shame.

It’s not great film, but it is a very good one. Although I had some issues with the Michael Clayton, the story and acting make it an easy recommendation. The film made #14 on my best films of 2007.

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