Monday, January 7, 2008

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is gritty, divorced, forty-something gambler, who works for one of New York’s most prestigious law firms as a fixer. When one of the high-priced clients of his law firm gets into trouble, Michael Clayton, son of a cop, and brother to another, cleans up the mess. How did a Catholic school graduate, and former criminal prosecutor come to use his skills to cover up corporate evils? He seems immune to his distasteful job, which he calls ‘the janitor’, as he dispassionately conspires with a wealthy client who is guilty of hit and run. Michael calmly weighs his client’s options, and having covered for another scoundrel, winds his way home through the wooded hills at dawn. Why does the sight of three horses looking out over a hilltop cause him to leave his car, and approach them, with a look of dreamlike wonder?
George Clooney’s riveting performance as the man who keeps everyone’s secrets, and covers their sins, keeps you watching his every move, wondering just how he got stuck in the role of fixer. Is it the $75, 000 he owes the bank for the bar he opened with his junkie brother, or his shady back-alley card game partners? Kenner, Bach, and Leeder, the firm he works for is in trouble, as we see in the opening scene, a 6 billion dollar class action lawsuit against their client, U North, a chemical company which made a weed killer which is being blamed for the death of hundreds of farmers, is suddenly willing to settle a case. The in-house counsel, Karen Crowder, is desperate to save her company’s reputation, but just how far is she willing to go? Tilda Swinton plays a ruthless Karen, a woman who sacrificed a personal life for high powered position.
Michael receives an emergency call to fly to Milwaukee, where attorney Arthur Edes, played by Tom Wilkinson, has ‘lost it’ in a deposition, stripping down to his socks, and siding with the plaintiffs of the U North lawsuit. He calls himself a ‘conspirator’, and is putting his firm’s high profile case into a tailspin, Michael is sent to quell his symptoms and keep the scandal from spreading. Why does Arthur suddenly snap after handling this despicable case for years without a qualm, and just what keeps him in intense conversation one night with Michael’s ten year old son?

A tale of corporate crisis which forges character, Michael Clayton resembles but falls short of the superb craft of a similar film “The Devil’s Advocate”. It is told out of order, with flashbacks, which serves to keep the audience on their toes, adding up the clues till the conclusion. It tweaks the consciences of corporate types who have lost touch with the real-life ramifications of their wheeling and dealing. I watched it in a theatre packed shoulder to shoulder with retired Wall Street types. A solitary view of a pristine Midwestern farmhouse in the fresh snowfall, and an ordinary policeman’s home seem places of peaceful solace in contrast with the darkness of corporate wrangling. The simplicity of the people there imbue this dark world with hope that the answer is simply one of righting the harm done. But is it too late for fixer Michael Clayton able to see this?
A dark corporate drama with a masterful Sydney Pollack as Marty Bach, Senior Partner of the firm, Michael Clayton is a morality tale for Wall Street. Powerful cimematography and a tense soundtrack lend a gothic ambiance to Michael Clayton.
The R rating is for the adult nature of the movie, and a graphic sexual reference, brief scene with a woman in her underwear. For older teens, and adults.
Cross-posted at MercatorNet.

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