Film buffs often complain about movies, calling them ‘popcorn ventures’. Then again, Michael Clayton is different. The film is not dumbed down to satisfy the audiences; it is a realistic and absorbing cinematic endeavor which restores your faith in film makers. This film is about corruption and the pay-offs made to keep images clean. A million films have been made with a similar intention. The genius of this film is that it makes you forget all the other failed attempts. Tony Gilroy the screenwriter for the Bourne Series has now taken up the directing chair to write and direct the crime drama, Michael Clayton.
The plot pivots around a class action suit against U-North, which has dragged on for years. Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) is the head counsel for the accused and is one of the leading attorneys in the world. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a “fixer”, greasing palms and making payments to make certain problems “go away”. He is a former litigator and has been rendered to do the dirty work due to a mysterious past. Clayton is obviously distressed by the way his career has been shaping and looks to change his ways. He is a recovering “card addict”, but is drawn to the cards as a last resort when in dire need of money.
In the opening montage, along with credits, we hear Arthur leave a message on Clayton’s answering machine, rambling on about an intervention from the heavens, appearing unstable.
The visuals open with Clayton being called to a client of his firm who was involved in a hit and run. Clayton tries to set the score straight and heads back home in the fading hours of the night. He stops to admire a few horses and escapes certain death when his car blows up, reminiscent of the scene in Bourne Ultimatum.
The movie flashes back a few days when Clayton’s bar is being auctioned off and he owes the mafia $75,000. He is then shipped off by his firm to rescue Edens, who had stripped in a deposition, chasing the defendant across the street in his birthday suit while screaming absolute nonsense. While in jail, Clayton tries to reason with Edens, and in this conversation we realize that Edens is a manic depressive and has had a similar breakdown in the past. Clayton convinces Edens to get back on his medication and conjurers up a bail releasing Edens from jail.
All is not well at U-North. U-North’s in-house counsel (Tilda Swinton) is unnerved by Edens’s “performance at the deposition”. U-north uncovers incriminating evidence that Edens was plotting against the company trying to build a case with an internal memo as his weapon which blamed U-North for causing cancer and hence, putting the entire organization in jeopardy.
Unaware of these developments Clayton tries to make sense of the constant barrage of babble. Edens, however, finds comfort in Clayton’s son when they converse about a science fiction book.
Edens runs back to New York ducking Clayton’s protection to get to his apartment. Unknown to him, Swinton has hired two goons to follow and record everything Edens says or does to determine the level of threat. Edens’s ramblings finally begin to make sense as the plot gradually unfolds.
This piece of cinema is a breath of fresh air when compared to the other releases. It is a disappointment that Michael Clayton failed at the Academy Awards. The joke that no one has heard or watched the winning movies is, sadly, logical and correct. Michael Clayton is not a John Grisham connect-the-dots thriller. It, although, has the careful deliberations of a thriller and unnerving accuracy in describing human reactions to incidents like a drama; it stands apart from all courtroom and crime dramas.
George Clooney has played a lawyer before in Intolerable Cruelty where he displayed his trademark charm, in this film Clooney appears world-wary and distant. If there was ever a scale for Clooney’s acting records, this would rank right up there with Syriana. Tilda Swinton’s acting is memorable and has earned the Oscar.
The film is however carried on the shoulders of Tom Wilkinson, probably one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, who nails the role of Arthur Edens. The transformation from the demented ramblings of a depressive and the coherent speeches of a man who has just achieved epiphany is intriguing.
The best scene in the entire venture would be the last shot while the credits roll. It has no dialogues but Clooney’s wry smile sums it all up.
A film which deserved more than it got, a director to watch out for and an eye opening performance by Clooney makes Michael Clayton a must watch.
(Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2161079596/)