Thursday, April 03, 2008

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007) [8]
A highly enjoyable and entertaining film to watch, I was surprised myself how good Michael Clayton is. The only detriment about it is that is plays a little too close to the legal thriller playbook but when a film of that genre is well done, it's almost always an entertaining one. Gilroy, who also wrote the script, fills the film with enough twists, intrigue, and just enough action to draw you in. George Clooney plays the title character, a lawyer whose job it is to swoop in and expedite problems. He gets drawn into having to keep a mentally unstable colleague (a flashy but not overboard Tom Wilkinson) from blowing a case involving an agricultural conglomerate's pesticide that has been contaminating ground water and killing people. As Clayton goes deeper, he uncovers more and more about the company, that they knew about and covered up the problems with contamination and also that they're not above eliminating any problematic elements in the case such as himself. It all falls neatly into the paranoid thrillers of the 70s, films that explored the shadowy deeds of corporations and the government, usually brought on by rogue individuals. The film is foremost about the character of Clayton, and even though he uncovers all this information, the film is never really wholly about what he discovers. The contamination/lawsuit is a subplot, just a way for the film to explore the character of Clayton. That plot is used as a way to bring out an ethical dilemma in him, to decide to do what's best for him or to do what's best ethically for not just him, but everyone around him. The film really centers around Clayton and what decision he's going to make. You know it's a sign of a good film when at the end, he does the right thing (in terms of how these films usually end up) and you as the viewer actually want him to. Gilroy and Clooney don't just leave it there, as they still leave open feelings of ambiguity in Clayton as if he did the right thing all along, not just in this situation, but in his career as a whole. The film takes one event and is able to create a nuanced character study that happens to be unabashedly entertaining. It may not break any rules but Michael Clayton is a film like they used to make, when studios actually acknowledged their audience had an intellect.

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