Michael Clayton a character-driven tale

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George Clooney stars in MIchael Clayton, on now at the Roxy. . Photo Courtesy Warner Bros.

I honestly expected a lot more gloss from a film like Michael Clayton. Here we have one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, George Clooney, in a legal drama that oozes big budget and even boasts a bit of Erin Brokovich-flavoured righteousness. Blockbuster, right?

Not really. And in this case, that’s an awfully good thing.

Michael Clayton is a quiet, relatively uncluttered, character driven tale, the likes of which we don’t see very much anymore. Despite one big ‘boom’ on the home stretch, there are little fireworks; no car chases, gunplay or freefalls from high rises. Just a heck of a good actor in a project that, if you have the patience, unfolds into a dandy movie for those who still enjoy solid stories without the unnecessary frills.

Clayton (Clooney) is a ‘fixer,’ a lawyer who knows the angles, who knows which rules can or cannot be broken — extremely valuable information when rich people screw up and require their firm to make the problem go away.

Professionally, he’s a dynamo, but Clayton’s personal life is a wreck; he’s divorced, an obvious gambler (the first image we see of him is at an underground poker game) and the restaurant/bar that he poured endless loads of cash into has just gone belly-up, leaving him $75,000 in debt with shady people who evidently want their money... and want it now.

Already stressed beyond belief, Clayton gets a job dumped in his lap when his mentor Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a bipolar individual, goes off his meds and strips down in the middle of a deposition. This justifiably angers his clients, a chemical giant by the name of U-North. Initially sent in to rescue Arthur and smooth things over, Michael digs away at the case and discovers damming evidence that confirms what he probably knew in his heart for years... his livelihood is based on defending murderers.

The twists in Michael Clayton aren’t really all that twisty, and the concept of the big case isn’t entirely fresh — but then, it doesn’t have to be. This movie isn’t about what Michael Clayton finds out or what he’s running from or who’s out to get him, etc., etc… it’s about Michael Clayton, the individual; how a broken, already cynical man can sink even further into a sea of disillusion, and how he handles incomprehensible pressure while doing so. The climax will linger with you... probably so much that, the final scene — a very simple yet almost haunting image... will keep your thoughts churning long after you leave the theatre. And that’s good film making.

Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Michael Clayton a four.

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