Michael Clayton: The Poll

Michael Clayton: The Poll

****
1
3%
*** 1/2
10
29%
***
15
43%
** 1/2
4
11%
**
4
11%
* 1/2
1
3%
*
0
No votes
1/2 *
0
No votes
0
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 35

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Mon Sep 24, 2007 11:01 am

Michael Clayton
By BRIAN LOWRY
George Clooney takes a sober turn in 'Michael Clayton.'

A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Samuels Media and Castle Rock Entertainment of a Mirage Enterprises/Section Eight production. Produced by Sydney Pollack, Steven Samuels, Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent. Executive producers, Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, James Holt, Anthony Minghella. Directed, written by Tony Gilroy.

Michael Clayton - George Clooney
Arthur Edens - Tom Wilkinson
Karen Crowder - Tilda Swinton
Marty Bach - Sydney Pollack
Barry Grissom - Michael O'Keefe

Spare and unhurried, writer Tony Gilroy's directorial debut "Michael Clayton" features strong performances and a solid story, drawn from the familiar well of faceless corporations grinding ordinary people through their profit-making machinery. Yet Gilroy's fidelity to his script comes at the expense of the pacing, which initially lumbers forward so assiduously as to feel like a throwback to an earlier era. If George Clooney's recent choices have oscillated between serious showcases (think "Syriana") and moneymaking endeavors (the "Ocean's" series), this falls squarely into the former camp, presenting Warner Bros. with a classy but difficult-to-market, no-frills, few-thrills thriller.
Having written the first two installments in the "Bourne" trilogy (and co-written the third), Gilroy seems determined to catch his breath, casting Clooney (also among the eight producers, along with co-star Sydney Pollack) as the title character -- a "fixer" for a large corporate law firm, New York's Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. He's the kind of can-do guy whom colleagues bill as a "miracle worker" but who, in world-weary fashion, describes himself as "a janitor."

Struggling with financial troubles brought on by an entrepreneurial gambit, Michael is asked to clean up after one of the firm's top litigators, Arthur (a terrific Tom Wilkinson), suffers a breakdown while taking a deposition defending multinational conglomerate U/North against a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit. The timing could hardly be worse, given that the firm's lead partner (Pollack) is in the process of orchestrating a merger and doesn't want anything scuttling the deal.

Gradually, Michael learns that Arthur's apparent madness might stem from the time he has invested in this case, exposing him to smoking-gun evidence of corporate malfeasance that puts U/North's chief counsel (Tilda Swinton) into a panicky sweat. Those questions, and how he resolves them, will ultimately test Michael's moral compass.

Concentrated in a four-day window and told primarily in flashback, the movie is somewhat chaotic and hard to follow through the early going before it zeroes in on this relatively simple premise -- one that will be highly familiar to anybody raised on "Don't trust big corporation" thrillers from the 1970s, like "The Parallax View" and "The China Syndrome." Then again, given the historic parallels -- with Vietnam-era mistrust of institutions morphing into the Iraq war -- the recurrence of this formula isn't particularly surprising.

Still, the stakes in those earlier films felt considerably higher, and the only uncertainty here is not how far the U/North folks will go to protect their interests, but what a cynical soul like Michael will do under the circumstances. (In an odd bit of happenstance, the movie overlaps on several fronts with "Damages," an FX drama about a multibillion-dollar civil suit that also unfolds through flashbacks.)

This lack of fireworks makes "Michael Clayton" refreshing in a sense, eschewing traditional white hats and black hats for more realistic shades of gray -- a tone well represented in Robert Elswit's cinematography and James Newton Howard's understated score. In that regard, it's also a strong if less flamboyant vehicle for Clooney, playing a laconic, never-let-them-see-you-sweat type that contrasts nicely with Wilkinson's standout work as an agitated attorney on the edge.

On the downside, some of the peripheral threads -- especially Michael's relationship with his family, both as an irritated brother and a single dad -- occupy time at the outset but really don't lead anywhere, and the conclusion leaves a few key questions conspicuously unanswered.

For all its strengths, then, "Michael Clayton" poses a challenge for Warner Bros. that owes as much to those attributes as its weaknesses -- just the kind of thorny situation, actually, where the marketing department might yearn to call in a fixer.

Mister Tee
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Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 15, 2007 8:12 pm

Hollywood Reporter

Michael Clayton
Bottom Line: Engrossing legal melodrama gives a big-name cast chewy roles.
By Kirk Honeycutt
Aug 31, 2007

For the last seven years, screenwriter Tony Gilroy has meticulously constructed the Bourne trilogy, a superb series that see amnesia victim Matt Damon dashing through increasingly thrilling episodes to discover his identity as basically a bad guy.

In "Michael Clayton," his directing debut, which he also wrote, Gilroy has reduced his formula to a single film: The eponymous Michael Clayton hurries -- dashes would be too strong a word -- through increasingly dangerous episodes to learn what he probably already knows, that by doing the dirty work of pond scum he is little more than a bad guy himself.

As with the Bourne films, Gilroy has a knack for creating strong characters and situations that resonate with tension. It may be formula, but the guy is a solid chemist as he crafts excellent set-ups and payoffs, and he has mastered those "ah-hah" moments when everything locks into place. With newly Oscar-anointed George Clooney heading a cast who love to roll up their sleeves to dig into their roles, "Michael Clayton" should perform well above average for Warner Bros.

Maybe all large corporate law firms have guys like Michael. He calls himself a "janitor." He is a lawyer, but his "niche," as the Manhattan firm's co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) so delicately puts it, is to clean up messes by the firm's motley clients.
While driving back from a cleaning job in upstate New York, Michael unaccountably stops on a lonely road to observe a trio of horses. (This is one of several plot holes.) Suddenly, his car blows up. Someone has tried to kill him!

Backtrack four days. Near the conclusion of a six-year class-action suit against an agrochemical client, the firm's top litigator, Arthur Evans (Tom Wilkinson), who is on the road and about to pull off a pretrial settlement, suffers a movie-attorney meltdown, the kind real-life lawyers never have: Like Al Pacino in "... And Justice For All," Arthur discovers that his client is guilty as Hell, and he wants to make amends. A manic-depressive and off his meds, he is switching sides. He is also behaving strangely as he performs a strip tease during a deposition.

Michael rushes to the Midwest to rescue mad Arthur from lock-up. Arthur slips from his custody and gets back to Manhattan where he holes up in his loft and makes surreptitious phone calls to a female plaintive.

Meanwhile, Michael's own life is in freefall. A serious gambling addict, he has decided to gamble instead on a restaurant venture, which his alcoholic brother has run into the ground. He owes $75,000 to some apparently bad guys and makes a devil's bargain to turn the Arthur situation around for a bailout by the firm.

The agrochemical company's chief counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), so anxious and overwhelmed by her knowledge of the firm's culpability and, by implication, her own shortcomings, panics. She hires shady characters to take care of loose-cannon Arthur. Following this much more noxious type of cleaning job, the shady characters can't help noticing Michael snooping around to learn the truth behind his friend's demise. Thus, the maladroit car bomb.

All of this cloak-and-dagger melodrama is designed to make Michael question what kind of man he has become in the firm's "niche." "What are you?" asks Arthur. "You know exactly what you are," spits his cop-brother in another scene.

A question you may ask yourself: Why a car bomb? Isn't that rather clumsy and attention-getting in the midst of a delicate legal settlement? And why on earth do the hoods stake out the sealed loft of the deceased?

Funnily enough, you ask these questions only after the credits roll. Until then, you are genuinely caught up in the thriller, as Gilroy proves a decent director of his own literary inventions. He trusts his actors, and they return the favor with solid characterizations down even to small roles.

A clutch of major directors who signed on to produce -- Pollack, Steven Soderbergh and Anthony Minghella -- make sure Gilroy is surrounded by pros: Cinematographer Robert Elswit keeps things crisp and immaculate. Designer Kevin Thompson makes every set and location an eye-grabber. James Newton Howard never intrudes with his score but keeps the tension subtly building. And Gilroy's own editor-brother John has nicely stitched together the often complex scenes.


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