October 12, 2007

Movie Review:

‘Michael Clayton’ fascinates as a dramatic thriller

By Kiko Martinez

It’s always going to be fun to watch leading man George Clooney execute those slick roles that’ll keep him atop People Magazine’s Most Sexiest Bachelor’s list. It’s more fulfilling, however, to watch the man put as much of that screen presence and passion into a movie that has a bit more substance than something like an “Ocean’s” trilogy.

Clooney has come a long way since 1988’s “Return of the Killer Tomatoes.” In the last couple of years, he has offered up gems, including “Good Night and Good Luck” and his Oscar-winning role in the political thriller “Syriana.” As Clooney the actor continues to evolve, so will his work. With “Michael Clayton,” he proves to be going in the right direction.

Clooney plays the title role in this, the first film from director/writer Tony Gilroy, who is responsible for the all three “Bourne” movies in the last five years. Here, Gilroy gets away from the fast-paced action to deliver the humanizing story of quasi-lawyer Michael Clayton (Clooney), a contributing counsel member who has been working for the same New York law firm for the last 17 years, but has never made partner.

Part of us believes that extenuating factors have caused Michael never to reach that pinnacle of his career. This includes issues at home (we watch him pick up his child from his ex-wife’s house and get a glimpse of her new husband. We also learn about his drug-addict brother) and Michael, himself, fighting off a gambling habit.

The other part of us believes that Michael is simply great at what he does – something his boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) calls his “niche.” To understand what Michael does for the firm, think of Harvey Keitel’s role as Winston Wolfe in “Pulp Fiction.” Michael is the “clean-up” guy for lawyers. He knows how to get things done and has the connection to do just that.

For his next “janitorial” duty, he is called upon to see what can be done when the firm’s senior litigate Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) – who is a manic depressant – decides to stop taking his medication and ends up, instead, taking off his clothes during a deposition case. It may sound funny on paper, but Arthur has some major problems. Not only is he having a mental breakdown, he also hold a secret inside his panicked mind that could bury the entire firm.

In steps the firm’s lawyer (because even lawyers need lawyers, right?) Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton in another steely performance), who will do anything she can to keep Arthur from flying too far away from the cuckoo’s nest. She and her henchmen have him on a short leash, and even Michael’s not in on their devious plans.

As genuine as a thriller can get, “Michael Clayton” is tightly-written and never takes the shortcut in its captivating storytelling. Director Gilroy has, in fact, given us one of the best debuts as a filmmaker in the last year and makes this one of the best pictures of 2007 thus far. Grade: A-.

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