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MICHAEL CLAYTON

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
Director: Tony Gilroy
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2008

“I’m not the enemy.”

“Then who are you?”

Film ****

I can’t remember the last time I experienced a film that restored my faith in mainstream cinema. It seems that flare far exceeds substance in today’s movie climate, and when something as bold and original as Michael Clayton comes along you can’t help but be mesmerized. It’s a pure masterful work that has redefined both the legal thriller and the corporate conspiracy thriller.

And if anything, it announces the arrival of Tony Gilroy as a true filmmaking talent. It marks Gilroy’s first time as a director, but he had already garnered critical acclaim for the many thrillers he penned, in particular the three Jason Bourne movies. All of that has led up to Gilroy’s finest hour yet, both in scripting and directing.

I wouldn’t dream of revealing the film’s ingenious plot structuring. I should just indicate that the first fifteen minutes will have you scratching your head a bit as to what exactly is going on. But once the story wraps all of the events together, the result in nothing short of riveting.

George Clooney, who’s always been a favorite of mine since his firery debut in From Dusk Til Dawn, seems to reveal himself more and more as a strong acting presence with each film he does. Here he gives his most fully complete and dynamic performance to date as the title character. It’s a performance that will hopefully prove to those who have unfairly dismissed Clooney has a just a pretty face that there is true acting talent within the good looks.

Michael Clayton represents New York’s most powerful law firm, Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. But he is not exactly a partner of the firm, or even a lawyer for that matter. He is simply a fixer, or as he puts it a janitor. He’s the one who’s called upon when the firm has a mess that needs to be cleaned up right away.

And man, is there a mess to be dealt with now. Michael is asked to help fix a legal situation that may prove to be difficult even for him. The firm’s top litigator, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has suffered a mental breakdown that could’ve never have been predicted by anyone.

We first hear of Arthur’s mental case, but with each progressing scene we learn more and more about why he snapped in the first place. Arthur was heading up the defense for u-north, an agro-chemical corporation engaged in a $3 billion class action lawsuit. They created a weed killer that turned out to be deadly, not just destroying farms but killing people as well.

Arthur, having spent six years of his life on nothing but this case, slipped off his medication and suddenly went from being defense attorney to that of a whistleblower. And after establishing a connection with one of the plaintiffs, Arthur began a crusade against the company he was defending.

So Michael has got his fixing work more than cut out for him this time around. Not only does he to convince his boss of the law firm, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), that Arthur means well and will be back on his feet, but he also has to convince Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), the lead representative of u-north who was assured a top-notch defense when Arthur took the case. She may not look it, but Karen is willing to go to sinister lengths to end Arthur’s crusade.

Michael Clayton is one of those cinematic gems where the less you know before you watch it, the more enthralling the film is. Even better, it’s a film that becomes even more remarkable on repeated viewings. There’s only one catch with the film; you will have to pay close attention. But in doing so, you will be immensely rewarded.

I’ve already mentioned how remarkable Clooney is in the title role, but Tom Wilkinson is every bit as phenomenal in the pivotal role of Arthur. Wilkinson has long been a fantastic actor, as demonstrated in films such as In the Bedroom and The Last Kiss, but his performance here is his most remarkable one yet. A scene where he records a phone message for all to hear about the horrific details of the case is the show-stopping point of the film.

Michael Clayton is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Tony Gilroy), Best Actor (Clooney), Best Supporting Actor (Wilkinson), Best Supporting Actress (Swinton), Best Original Screenplay (Gilroy) and Best Original Score (James Newton Howard). All of those nominations are extremely well deserved, and I can tell you right now that it’s my top choice for Original Screenplay.

Michael Clayton ranked very high on my list of the best films of 2007. It’s an outstanding accomplishment of directing, acting, and storytelling at the highest possible level. It’s a gripping and thoroughly absorbing thriller that will be a defining moment in the genre for years to come.

Video ****

Warner has delivered a most fantastic looking release. The film carries a sharp, moody look to it which perfectly matches the atmosphere. Colors are terrifically natural, and the anamorphic picture is crisp and clear from beginning to end. There are a great deal of dark/nighttime sequences, and they all come off in outstanding form.

Audio ***1/2

Though strictly a dialogue driven piece, the 5.1 mix delivers in building the tension that the movie wonderfully delivers. Dialogue delivery is stellar, to say the least, and James Newton Howard’s score is heard in tremendous stunning form. Several suspenseful moments deliver nice payoff as well!

Features *1/2

I wish there could’ve been more extras on the making of the movie. For now, we do have a commentary track with writer/director Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy, as well as a closed captioned commentary and Additional Scenes with optional commentary.

Summary:

I can’t say enough about Michael Clayton, nor can I reveal too much as part of making this movie experience all the more riveting. George Clooney is a powerhouse, as is the rest of the cast in one of the best crafted contemporary thrillers since Memento. Do not hesitate…see it now!

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