- Rated R
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
he press is going gaga over “Michael Clayton,” but to be honest, their excitement could stand to be tempered just a touch. The movie is indeed a well made thriller with smart dialogue and a dynamite performance from George Clooney in the title role. The problem is, as thrillers go, it’s not all that thrilling. You pretty much know how things are going to turn out; the only question is how. Writer/director Tony Gilroy seems to be going for a ‘70s vibe along the lines of “Three Days of the Condor” or “All the President’s Men,” which may be why the press loves it so much. And while those movies are good, they’re also very deliberate in their pacing, which may not be enough for today’s ‘here we are now, entertain us’ moviegoer.
George Clooney stars as the title character, a special consultant to the corporate law firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. In his own words, he’s a janitor, someone the firm calls on when something needs to be cleaned up, which is highly ironic given his own life is a mess thanks to divorce and a failed business venture. As Michael tries to get his life in order, he watches his colleague and dear friend Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), the lead attorney defending a class action lawsuit against KBL client UNorth, fall apart. Arthur, who’s bipolar, has stopped taking his medication, which leads to an embarrassing event at a deposition. Worse, Arthur is guilt-stricken over his client’s actions and is about to sabotage the case, which causes UNorth litigator Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) to step up her efforts to settle the matter as quietly as possible.
It is very telling that two of the executive producers of “Michael Clayton” are Steven Soderbergh and Anthony Minghella. Clooney’s performance recalls his work in Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” while the movie’s pacing reminded me of Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” If that last part scares you, well, good, it probably should. The movie is in no hurry to tell its story, and anyone looking for a ‘Run, Lawyer, Run!’-type thriller should look elsewhere. I applaud first-time director Gilroy for resisting the urge to make a movie in the same vein as many of his slam-bang screenplays (“Armageddon,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” all three “Bourne” movies), but at the same time, the story could have used a little sizzle.
Luckily for him, just about everything else in “Michael Clayton” works in his favor. The acting is top-notch across the board, with Clooney and Wilkinson putting on a clinic. Pollack, who needs to act more often, provides invaluable support as the Bach in Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. Swinton is a fine actress, but she should start wearing colored contacts; her dark eyes and pale skin make her look like Evil Willow from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which underscores the depth of the character as it is written.
“Michael Clayton” certainly had the makings of something truly special, but hype be damned, it just isn’t the masterpiece movie critics are claiming it to be. Maybe they were overwhelmed with nostalgia at the notion of someone trying to make a movie in the style of the so-called golden age of cinema, and that love for all things ‘70s triggered an emotional response in them that will be lost on everyone else. Whatever the reason, the makers of “Michael Clayton” will gladly bathe in the excessive praise, though if they’re smart, they should prepare for the public to react in a markedly different manner.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Three deleted scenes, one audio commentary: to quote Richard Attenborough out of context, Warner Brothers spared no expense for the DVD release of their lone Oscar hopeful. Granted, director Tony Gilroy’s audio commentary is very entertaining in its honesty and humility, but Warners put more into the DVD release for “Firewall” (!) than they did with this. Your guess as to why they would skimp on their golden goose is as good as ours.