January 22, 2008
The lead lawyer representing UNorth, Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), who has been trusted with UNorth's secrets, who has been trusted with UNorth's very destiny, has gone off the rails. He goes off his meds (literally) and suddenly jeopardizes the future of both UNorth and the firm he works for. What will UNorth's paranoid and manic general counsel (Tilda Swinton) do to preserve her company?
George Clooney is Michael Clayton, a supremely useful "cleaner" who can fix any legal entanglement. Clayton turns into a detective, using his own personal skill set to solve the crime and the cover-ups at the heart of the story, all while being surveilled and opposed on two sides. My wife pointed out the similarities to the movie of The Fugitive, where Dr. Kimble has to solve his wife's murder with his skills as a doctor, while being pursued on two fronts.
In the past, I have noted that George Clooney the actor has some mannerisms which he falls back on as crutches. I noticed in this film that he has grown as an actor- some scenes displayed heretofore unseen depth of character. We can thank his character for this: Far from the fast-talking slick con man of the Ocean's Eleven movies, Michael Clayton the attorney is just a cog in a machine, broke and powerless, at the mercy of his loan shark and his boss. His moment of epiphany, in a pasture with some horses, is a little silly, but Clooney brings his best stuff, and I can see why he's been nominated for Best Actor. Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson are both nominated too: Wilkinson's manic lawyer has some rambling monologues, but I think he gets the nomination because voters pity his character. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as the paranoid, manic, insecure general counsel whose identity is so wrapped up in her work that she loses all perspective.
Michael Clayton is nominated in six of the top seven Oscar categories: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actor. I am a little surprised that a "genre" movie, admittedly a very well executed genre movie, has turned into such a big deal. The movie as a great pedigree: Clooney, Wilkinson, Swinton, producer and co-star Sidney Pollack, plus producers Anthony Minghella and Steven Soderbergh, have all been nominated or won Oscars before. Composer James Newton Howard is nominated for Best Score for the fifth time (one of those previous four was for The Fugitive).
THEATER NOTES: Last night, sitting in the theater while waiting for Juno to begin, we watched two pairs sixty-something friends spontaneously run into each other in the theater, as if they go to the movies on weeknights all the time. I whispered to my wife "that's going to be us someday", meaning "we'll spend our retirement going to movies on weeknights and meeting our fellow retirees". She replied "we already are them!" Good point, 'cause guess what: On our way out of the 6:30 screening of Michael Clayton, we ran into our friends Tom and Amy in the lobby. They were on their way in, to see the 8:45 show of the same movie.