Michael Clayton (5/10)
by Tony Medley
Words, words, words;
Iím so sick of words.
Show Me; Alan J.
Lerner, My Fair Lady
That about sums up how I
felt about Michael Clayton. Some people are lucky. I couldnít
attend the screening for this because I pulled my Achilles tendon the
Sunday before it was scheduled and didnít think I should hobble around
the Warner Bros. lot and exacerbate the injury. So I went to a
commercial complex the night after opening night to the 7:00 pm.
screening. A friend was attending the 7:50 screening at the same
complex. Five minutes before the end of my screening, the entire
building was evacuated for an emergency. That meant that my lucky friend
only had to sit through about an hour while I was stuck for almost the
entire two hours. And they were two excruciating hours, indeed; two
hours of words, only some of which made sense.
The titular protagonist,
Michael Clayton (George Clooney), is a ďfixerĒ for a big New York law
firm that is defending an apparently corrupt corporation in a big class
action case. Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) is the firmís lead litigator
who is psychologically adrift, acting bizarrely, having been videotaped dancing naked, so
Michael is dispatched to patch things up. Weíre never sure if Michael is
a lawyer, an attorney, or what. But we do know that he is a
problem-solver, with troubles of his own as his brother is in hock to
the mob and Michael is trying to solve that with his own money, which
has run out, due, in part, to his addiction to poker. As per Hollywood
Rules, the mob, composed of sociopaths in real life, is shown as
benevolent and understanding. But in one of the many plot holes, the
question is bound to occur to others, as it did to me; to wit, if
Michael canít solve his own problems, why would this huge law firm
employ him to solve theirs?
The chemical company
defendant has a general counsel from hell, Karen (Tilda Swinton). I was
a corporate counsel and have dealt with many General Counsels. One, Bob
Lentz of Litton Industries, created the mold that all should follow. He
was brilliant, understanding, shrewd, and tough. Another, whose name
will be charitably withheld, was, like Karen, in over his head. Since I
was an outside counsel to his corporation, I could ignore him and his
instructions with impunity, which I did to his great dismay, but to the
great benefit of his corporate employer. Others have been in between, in
various shades of competence. Karen is incompetent and unsure of
herself. I donít think any major corporation would put up with someone
as inept and lacking in confidence as she.
Right at the beginning
there were almost interminable scenes of Karen preparing her
presentation that warned me what was coming. She was even bumbling and
unconvincing in front of her mirror. I got the point in the first few
moments, but these scenes go on and on and on. Maybe writer-director
Tony Gilroy is trying to subtly tell the viewer that this is going to be
a long, slow process. I doubt those motivations, though, because, even
though this is his directorial debut, he is clearly one of those guys
who canít make a movie long enough. His credits include the script for
The Bourne Identity (2002), which was the only Bourne film
I didnít like. Although, to be fair, he also wrote the second and got
co-writer credit on the third, both of which were far superior to the
first, but that was due to a change of directors to Paul Greengrass. I
doubt if director Gilroy left much film on the cutting room floor,
certainly none that contained words (remember, they are all HIS words!).
The story is muddled, but
it hits the favorite points of Clooney and producer Mark Cuban, the
corruption of both American big business and the legal profession.
Attorney Karen is the mother of all white collar villains, but pretty
much without any reason for her actions.
In fact, thereís not much
reason for anything that happens, and thatís probably due to the
ignorance of Gilroy and Cuban and Clooney about how large corporations
and the legal profession actually work. This lack of cohesion is
exemplified by the stimulus of the film that occurs at the opening when
Michael is driving back from one of his ďfixitĒ meetings. For some
unexplained reason he detours off the road. Then, again without any
reason or explanation, stops and gets out of his car to climb a hill to
look at three horses at the top. While there, his car explodes. At that
point, the film flashes back to show the preceding four days leading us
back to this climactic scene. Why did he detour off the main road? There is no answer, just as there is
no answer to many of the charactersí actions throughout the movie.
I donít want to finish
without at least one good word. Sydney Pollack, the director (The
Firm, Havana, Tootsie, to name just a few) and sometime actor, plays
Marty Bach, the senior partner of Michaelís law firm. Unlike most of the
filmís other characters, Pollack is not only believable, but the best
thing in the film. Maybe the reason why heís such a good director is
that he is a very good actor.
Some might see the dark
cinematography, the unshaven protagonist who is being pursued by demons,
both known and unknown, and the incoherent story-telling as tense.
George Clooney fans, mostly female, should love it because heís in
almost every scene. As for me, I looked at my watch a lot.
October 7, 2007