Thursday, 1 April 2010

"Michael Clayton". A Review of the UK's 2010 BLU RAY Reissue.

MICHAEL CLAYTON: “I’m Not The Enemy!”
ARTHUR EDENS: “Then Who Are You?”

Late at night 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. A voice-over is having a full-on meltdown as the big wheels of this little cog roll ever forward.
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’s 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 playing top Personal Injury 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 to his very marrow 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 450 unwitting US farmers - despite U-North’s glossy ‘for the people’ TV advertisements. Billions of dollars are at stake here and the very soul of the law firm itself.
And that is of course one of the problems – unlike some of the other lawyers in Kenner, Back & Ledeen - Arthur still has a soul - and now – maybe even documentary evidence to settle the case once and for all. But the truth - like him - has become a liability - and 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. But it’s the principal lead GEORGE CLOONEY who drives the movie forward; he is utterly compelling as the law firms floating fixer “Michael Clayton” dispatched pronto to ‘get a grip’ on the situation and his friend, Arthur.

Clayton has arrived at 45 years of age with no real life other than his job, his wife is with another man and his kids are something he gets visiting rights to rather than actual parenting of. Clayton’s previous bad habits include reckless gambling - and now - he has an expensive failed restaurant to deal with (a hoped-for alternate life). As the firm’s ‘janitor’ he spends most of his working day on the phone calling in favours or flying in private planes to places in the middle of the country in the dead of night to sort out messes made by other odious rich people. Clayton’s every action is filed in a corporate drawer marked ‘necessary evil’. Worse, because of his restaurant shambles and card-table losses, he now needs $75,000 dollars in a week or debt people will come to ‘fix’ him.

But the real lose of course is his humanity - his very soul. Clooney’s character is morally disintegrating like his friend Arthur Edens and just doesn’t know it yet. There’s a fantastic sequence in an alleyway when Clayton finally catches up with the AWOL Edens, and while the conversation begins with Clayton saying to his friend that he’s acting like a madman who doesn’t know what he’s saying, Arthur turns it around… Clayton shouts “I’m not the enemy!” But Arthur says softly in reply, “Then, who are you?” Clayton’s jaw drops open, because (a) he doesn’t know anymore, 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 into this heady mix the Oscar winning talents of TILDA SWINTON, who is a ruthless corporate player prepared to stoop to any deed to get her job done and it’s not too 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 Marty Bach, who on hearing of Arthur’s filmed meltdown in a deposition meeting (he strips down to his socks in front of a teenage girl) - simply frowns. Immediately you get from his scrunched up eyebrows that Arthur’s mental health doesn’t really concern Mister Bach, but the consequences to their law firm and therefore by extension to their rich and comfortable lives…does. The level of writing is like this all the way through – rich, deep and filled out.

And now – at last - it arrives on the High Definition format of BLU RAY (it was only available on an American HD DVD up until now) and it looks fabulous - a lot more defined and rich to the eye. Even in the dark night scenes, the clarity is glorious. It’s a classy looking film.

Disappointingly, the extras are only good rather than great. You get three deleted scenes (one contains the English actress Jennifer Ehle of TV''s "Pride & Prejudice" fame) and then three commentaries on those scenes by Tony and John Gilroy as a separate feature. But there’s no “making of”, no feature-length commentary, no input from the actors - when all would have been truly fascinating things to watch. Subtitles are English and English for the Hard-of-Hearing.

Still – with the hugely enhanced picture quality - “Michael Clayton” is a superb movie and a career best for all the leads. A superlative BLU RAY reissue I urge you to seek out.

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