Michael Clayton


Action / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller


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January 26, 2012 at 11:04 PM



Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder
George Clooney as Michael Clayton
Tom McCarthy as Walter
750.51 MB
23.976 fps
1hr 59 min
P/S 6 / 48

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Bobby Elliott 8 / 10

Slow burner but high quality movie

After seeing "Superbad" last weekend, I needed a grown-up antidote and this movie is certainly that. A slow moving, adult, serious movie with a message.

The movie has a number of themes including ageing, corruption, principles and truth. The movie's message is that there is more to life than making money.

The acting is uniformly good but Clooney is outstanding. His character is complex and he's pretty unhappy with what he has become. But it's all done very subtly. There are no obvious messages in this movie. As another reviewer wrote, you have to pay attention.

Don't read too much into my "slow moving/slow burner" descriptions. This movie is not boring. It just doesn't whiz along with one implausible twist after another. It's evenly paced with an almost complete lack of silly plot lines (there was no need for the lawyer in crisis to remove his clothes during a trial).

Everyone involved in this movie deserves praise for producing a challenging, grown-up, movie-with-a-message in the face of a torrent of mindless nonsense.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Chris_Docker 8 / 10

An intelligent movie with reasonably wide appeal

During one scene, high powered corporate lawyer Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) practices answers for a coming interview. How do you achieve a work-life balance? The question, of course, could apply to us all.

Ideals versus the reality of paying a mortgage? Trapped in a fast lifestyle. You maybe realise what you are doing is less than perfect. How easily can you get out? (One might also ask, how do serious actors balance worthwhile projects against box-office returns. A question that seems to prompt the fluctuating choices of stars like Swinton and Clooney.)

By putting such an impasse at the heart of the movie, Michael Clayton becomes more than an edge-of-your-seat legal drama: it is a powerful psychological study that asks how far we will go to avoid facing unpalatable truths.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an in-house 'fixer.' He works for a big New York law firm. He sorts out their dirty work. For instance, a big client is involved in a hit-and-run. Or bad stories in the press that need smoothed out. Clayton is good at his job. But discontented. Divorce, gambling addiction, failed business venture, loads of debt. No easy way out, even if he wanted one.

U-North is a large agrichemical company (think Constant Gardener). Their in-house chief counsel is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). Karen wants to see off a multi-million dollar class action suit. Clayton's firm is employed to wind it all up nicely for her. But Clayton's colleague, the brilliant Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has an apparent mental breakdown. He strips off during a deposition. Then tries to sabotage the entire case. Clayton goes in to 'fix' things, yet he is gradually forced to admit how good the firm has maybe become at making wrong seem right.

Much in the tradition of Erin Brockovitch or even Syriana, this is a film that tries to attack the respected authorities while still working within the format of mainstream cinema. (More cynically, it uses high production values and scenes that last no longer than the attention span of passive audiences – supposedly the length of a TV commercial break.)

Directed by the man who wrote the Bourne trilogy, Michael Clayton racks up an intelligent suspense movie out of a plot nominally too dry for mass-market appeal. It reminds us of a world of imperatives we all succumb to. Maybe we don't always stop to question our job or its ethics too closely? Finish our overtime. Get reports ready for tomorrow. Close the deal. Have some private life. Let's leave philosophy for people with time on their hands. 'Nothing to do with me.'

This is a moral-dilemma-movie that could easily have failed and doesn't. Two hours of lawyer-talk could be enough to bore anyone. But the screenplay cleverly contrasts high-intensity scenes and well-developed characters. Arthur's psychotic ranting. Clooney's impenetrable cool. Swinton's prepared polish. These are displayed in the boardroom. Or uncomfortably restrained emotion in family scenes. The high-stakes backroom card game. Or the simple, almost documentary-like portrayal of one of the plaintiffs claiming damages from U-North.

Director Tony Gilroy is in no hurry to play all his cards. By the time murder enters the game, we are so engrossed that it seems like a natural progression.

Cinematography by Oscar-nominated Robert Elswit is crucial. Right from the start, we are torn by fascinating contrasts. A long panning shot through expensive, empty offices is coupled with a sound-over of manic rambling. Suddenly the camera wanders into a busy room. An annoying reporter over the phone. And the overheard phrase, "The time is now," brings everything together in the present. Shortly afterwards, a horrific scene in which Clayton is almost killed. Then flashback four days to unravel a 'smoking gun' that can overturn the lawsuit on which lives, careers and whole firms rely.

At one point, a shadow on the lower right of the screen could almost be an audience member standing up. As it advances, we see it is Clooney. His 'reality-check' moment – one with which we have been subtly led to identify – then saves his life. The subsequent soul-searching and inner turmoil also provide one of Clooney's most rounded and complex performances to date. (Additional casting is spot-on, with Wilkinson and Swinton both excelling themselves.)

Clayton's ability to ask himself difficult questions is matched by Crowder's knack for self-deception. It is a frightening depiction of the legal mastery of words when she gives instructions for the most abominable acts with total deniability.

Although the overly obvious Blackberry product-placement annoyed me slightly, I found Michael Clayton a satisfying film without any of the usual over-simplified characters. Threads are pulled together a bit too conveniently towards the end, but it succeeds in never seeming contrived. If you have always put off thinking a little too deeply about where your own life is heading, it might even give you a necessary nudge. But as all-round entertainment to a thinking audience, Michael Clayton is one of this summer's better movies.

Reviewed by John Kingston 6 / 10

Good film, but not for everyone

This is a well-made suspense film. It builds slowly, it features the key characters in sometimes agonising close-up, it weaves an intricate plot (a bit too intricate, in hindsight -- I'm still not sure why some events were included), and George Clooney is masterful as the morally conflicted character who does his best to hold his collapsing life together, while slowly realising that his role in life is not quite what he thought it was in any case.

There are some things this film is not. It's not an action film ... if you expect that, it will seem very slow. It's not a warm and friendly film that leaves you feeling good about the world -- it was shot in winter, just to emphasise its coldness. It's not a comedy in any way, not even through being over-the-top. It's reality rather than escapism.

If you like suspense, unflinching realism, stories of moral conflict, criticisms of corporate America, or George Clooney -- or if you're just in the mood to see that kind of film -- you'll love it. If you're in the mood for a film to wash away the cares of the day (as I was), choose something else.

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