Friday, 11 July 2008

"Michael Clayton" on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 2007 Movie Starring George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson.

"I Am Shiva! The Goddess Of Death!"

Right the opening frames of "Michael Clayton", you know you're in the presence of a class act.

On the one-millionth floor of a city skyscraper, a trolley chock full of legal papers is being wheeled through the immaculate corridors of a huge US Law firm. As the big wheels of this little cog roll ever forward, a voice on a tape-recording is having a full-on meltdown. The educated tones are that of a man in his late 50's; he's obviously hugely intelligent, yet there's only half-coherence in his lengthy fast-spoken sentences. The voice babbles on and on about morals and death and epiphanies. He talks of searing personal clarity, of monsters, of ordinary people being screwed by the system - he is drowning in a river of shit that he's been swimming in for years and can stand it no more. This man is clearly unhinged. Or is he?

The voice you vaguely recognise is that of the superlative British actor TOM WILKINSON (an inspired piece of casting) and he's paying top lawyer Arthur Edens. Arthur is a man who got into the law for the right reasons when he started out as a young man, but now, in the twilight of his long and acknowledged career, finds that his brilliance is being used. It seems that he has finally been driven mad by 12 long years of evasion and counter tactics in what he knows in his very soul is an indefensible lawsuit.

The case is a class-action suit pending against a huge agro-chemical company called U-North whose 'odourless/tasteless' weed product may/may not have killed a large number of unwitting US farmers despite U-North's glossy `for the people' TV advertisements. Billions of dollars are at stake and the very soul of the law firm itself. And that is of course one of the problems - unlike some of the other lawyers, Arthur still has a soul - and now - maybe even documentary evidence to settle the thing one way or the other.
But the truth - like him - has become a liability - Arthur may need `to be dealt with'...

The opening dialogue is stunning and it should be. "Micheal Clayton" is written and directed by TONY GILROY who penned all three of the "Bourne" scripts, "Dolores Claiborne" and the well-underrated "Proof Of Life". You couple really great material like this with a stunning cast and you get a film that's firing on all sixes. Even the minor roles are a sensation.

As principal lead actor and putting in a performance that is his best, George Clooney plays the firms floating fixer "Michael Clayton" who is dispatched pronto to `get a grip' on the situation and his friend, Arthur. Clayton has no real life other than the job, his wife is with another man and his kids are something he gets visiting rights to rather than actually parenting of. Clayton's previous bad habits include gambling - badly. He also has a restaurant that's failed and he needs $75,000 dollars in a week or people will come to `deal with' him. On top of this half-life, Clayton spends most of his working day for his morally bankrupt law firm fixing the messes made by odious rich people, his every action filed in a drawer marked 'necessary evil'. Clooney's character is of course on his way to becoming Arthur Edens and just doesn't know it yet.

There's a fantastic sequence in an alleyway when Clooney finally catches up with the AWOL Wilkinson, and while the conversation begins with Clooney saying to Wilkinson that he's acting like a madman who doesn't know what he's saying, Wilkinson turns it around and asks, "Who are you Michael?" and Clayton's jaw drops open, because (a) he doesn't know, and (b) he does know, but just can't bring himself to say it, let alone do something about it...either way he's screwed.

Now we throw in the Oscar winning talents of TILDA SWINTON, who is a ruthless corporate player prepared to stoop to any deed to get the job done and it's not difficult to see what will happen to Arthur and his new found enlightenment...

There's also a deliciously ambiguous SYDNEY POLLOCK playing one of law firms Senior Partners who on hearing of Arthur's strip off of all of his clothes in a deposition meeting on camera - part of his meltdown - simply frowns. Immediately you get from his scrunched up eyebrows that Arthur's mental health doesn't really concern Sydney, but the consequences to their law firm and therefore by extension to their rich and comfortable lives...does. The level of writing is like his all the way through - rich, deep and filled out.

I could go on, but it would spoil it for you. "Michael Clayton" is a superb movie and a career best for all the leads. It probably cost real money to acquire a script this good and the quality actors to do it justice, but the pay off was worth it. Hollywood has produced some pap of late; happily "Michael Clayton" gives us hope that they can still deliver the goods. A superlative film I urge you to seek out.

PS: The title of this review is from one of Arthur's rants.

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