Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Michael Clayton (2007, Tony Gilroy) [8]

Over the last few years, more filmmakers have been gravitating toward minor-key films in a style closer to that of 70s-era filmmakers, before the studios decided movies needed to be for everyone. Michael Clayton, much like We Own the Night last night, is a superlative example of this kind of movie, moving at a leisurely pace yet containing almost no wasted brush strokes. It's key that almost every important character, save Michael's young son, is over 40- Michael Clayton isn't a film about youngsters on the make, but about grown adults who have sacrificed a lot to live the lives they lead, and who stand to lose even more. But while the film has the trappings of a legal thriller, it's at its heart a character study, a blinkered story about a blinkered man. Michael doesn't have much of a life- he's always traveling between assignments for his job as a law firm's "fixer," and in between he picks up his kid, occasionally plays in a backroom poker tournament, and worries about the debt he's incurred on his failed restaurant. He almost never smiles, and I don't think we ever see him at home. He's always being sent somewhere or other on business. Clooney is perfect for the role, a well-dressed professional with no small amount of skill but who feels no love for what he does. And the rest of the cast is just as good- Tom Wilkinson somehow pulls off crazy without resorting to histrionics, and Tilda Swinton plays her cool-customer corporate counsel while suggesting the great sacrifices that she's had to make along the way in tiny but indelible touches (the no-nonsense suits, the on-the-fly makeup job, etc.). Like a con artist has to be more convincing than the people he's trying to imitate, so she has to be even more on her game than the men surrounding her in the boardroom boys' club. Michael Clayton is that rarest of things, an entertainment designed specifically for adults, and it's even more impressive for being Gilroy's first film behind the camera. Many screenwriters-turned-directors can't strike the right mix between screenplay and direction, but Gilroy is a natural.

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