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Review of Michael Clayton

The most notable thing about this film is that it’s very classy. The acting is immaculate, the dialogue good; it has a sombre look throughout – all grey and cold; and it has a complex structure with a speech from the middle right at the very start, and this is followed by a climactic scene from near the end. The thing that isn’t so classy is the story.

George Clooney is much as George Clooney usually appears on-screen – charismatic and decisive – but his character is undergoing financial trouble (his restaurant has gone under; if it was made clear exactly why, then I wasn’t paying attention; in fact, I didn’t quite understand why Clayton was so strapped for cash when he’s made out to be such a great legal fixer … actually, he’s a recovering gambling addict, but even so. You know, the more I think about it, the more it seems like the restaurant and the gambling were just added to the story to spice it up – they don’t have a huge impact on the main thread of the plot). All his troubles give the eponymous MC a hangdog quality that Clooney either does subtly or half-heartedly, depending on your point of view.

Tom Wilkinson plays a manic-depressive lawyer who’s stopped taking his medication – and he goes a bit crazy … or does he? The puzzle of how sane or otherwise he is is a major part of the film. And again, this probably isn’t all that worthwhile. What it does is turn this legal drama into a personal drama. Perhaps the writers just decided that a straight legal battle wouldn’t be engaging enough; perhaps this half and half approach is either too ambitious or too much of a compromise.

There were a couple of moments that didn’t quite work: Clayton survives an attempt on his life by what appears to be some form of unconscious precognition. As with many things, the film doesn’t really go into the details of how this actually came about. And at the end of the film, the crux of success and failure is brought about by a hackneyed device that we’ve all seen approximately a million times in movies. Quite a disappointment for such a striking and strangely unusual film.

All of which might make you think I didn’t like Michael Clayton – so why did I say it was very classy? I enjoyed it a lot – it was dark, intense, intelligent and simply carried itself with authority. It also featured an incredibly chilling killing … Sorry. The villain of the peace, played by an almost robotic (in a good way) Tilda Swinton, hires a couple of corporate fixers of a very different kind to Michael Clayton – and they go about their business methodically and, when need be, brutally.

In the end, the film contains a few too many flaws to be great, and it’s perhaps not nearly as good as it appears to be, but it’s certainly watchable and its qualities outweigh those flaws.

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