October 14, 2007

REVIEW: Michael Clayton (C)

Background: Tony Gilroy, screenwriter for the Bourne trilogy and a sampling of other random 90's movies, shopped his draft of Michael Clayton around Hollywood for several years. Because he insisted on directing it himself, which he has no experience doing, no one would bite. Finally, it was picked up by Castle Rock and Warner Bros., probably because of the success of the Bourne movies. Nevermind that they are completely different genres. George Clooney stars as the title character, supported by Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), Tilda Swinton (The Beach, The Deep End), and acclaimed director, producer, and occasional actor Sydney Pollack.

Synopsis: We are introduced in the opening credits to Arthur Evans (Wilkinson), senior counsel for the law firm representing U North, a major agricultural corporation accused of using toxic pesticides. Evans, a manic depressive, delivers a Jerry Maguire-esque speech about an epiphany he has had in learning the truth, and we see a bunch of lawyers in crisis mode as the story is about to break. At the same time, the firm's "fixer" Michael Clayton (Clooney) is playing underground poker and U North spokeswoman Karen Crowder (Swinton) is practicing sound bites for an interview. We're then inexplicably taken back a few days in time to learn more about each character. Clayton's work is thankless and he is worn down from dealing with the firm's problems. He has family issues and a failed restaurant business. He genuinely cares about his colleague Evans, but he is concerned about what the fallout will be from Evans' mental breakdown. Eventually the story picks up as U North decides to take some predictably extreme measures to keep the story under wraps, and Clayton decides to do the "right thing" for once.

I Loved:
+ Nothing.

I Liked:
+ The kitchen scene where Michael Clayton deals with the spastic executive who has just committed a hit-and-run.

I Disliked:
- The hired hoodlums - clichéd
unmarked van, clichéd black skullcaps, clichéd nondescript face, etc.
- The weak dialogue - specifically Michael Clayton's desperate voice message for Arthur, and Michael Clayton's awkward speech to his son in the car.
- The unnecessary lesson on the woes of trying to own a restaurant in New York City.

I Hated:
- The painfully predictable, obnoxiously obvious ending - not the cheap ending they show at the beginning for no reason whatsoever, but the pathetic real ending outside the ballroom.
- The disgusting speech we have to hear from Arthur Evans not once, but twice - it just sounded gross to me, and it was probably a lot better in Tony Gilroy's mind that it came to be on film.

Writing - 6
Acting - 9
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 6
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 38/50= 76% = C

Last Word: I guess I just expected more from Michael Clayton. I thought there would be more suspense and characters I would actually care about. Maybe even an interesting take home message. Instead I see the end of the movie in the first five minutes and I find myself annoyed with almost everyone on the screen, plus all can I think is that I saw the same plot in A Civil Action. The whole thing was like a bad episode of "Law & Order," which I have actually never seen but imagine is like this. By the way, does any actor wear a white shirt and black jacket for as many characters as George Clooney? "No, I've got wardrobe, thanks, just give me some witty lines so I can look smarter than all of the other characters." OK, so I wasn't as annoyed with Clooney as I thought I would be - he does fine. The real problems with Michael Clayton are in the story. They're minor details, but they add up to a mess. For example, stop with the time shifting trend in Hollywood. It would have been a lot more shocking to have zero knowledge of the car bomb until it goes off at the end when he's petting the horses. Just BOOM! Out of nowhere. Instead, we're waiting for it the whole time. No reason to show that at the beginning, or the overdrawn GPS confusion with the bad guys. And why did he have to throw his wallet and watch into the car? Also, get the son and the restaurant business out of the story entirely (and dramatically reduce the teenage girl's role), and don't use a really tired plot (evil corporation conceals dangerous product) and even more cliched ending. I think Tony Gilroy should avoid writing legal thrillers and stick with action, where at least there's an excuse for bad writing.

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