Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Michael Clayton! Rent this now. (**********10/10)

I have noticed many movie reviewers, when talking about Michael Clayton (and many other movies, of course), like to compare it to other movies. This can make it fairly easy to write a review. So I will attempt it now. Of course, this movie is magnificent. George Clooney is sensational as Michael Clayton, a "janitor" for a major law firm, a man who cleans things up before they get out of hand, whenever they may be screwed up. When a lawyer at that firm loses his mind, Clayton is sent in to clean up the mess. Sidney Pollack shows up in the film, as an actor this time, playing the head of that law firm, and he is good. Tilda Swinton is the litigator in charge of that firm's biggest client, a company called uNorth. She is absolutely perfect as a detail-obsessed corporate functionary, as a suit-wearing battleaxe who is, deep down, insecure and in WAY over her head. And Tom Wilkinson gives a wonderful performance as the lawyer who has a breakdown in court and removes all his clothes in the middle of a deposition. Oh wait. I'm supposed to compare Michael Clayton with other movies. So, now that I've outlined the basic plot, here are some comparisons:

Michael Clayton is a lot like Erin Brokovich in that it involves a class-action lawsuit made by hundreds of "little people" against a major firm that poisoned their land. It is lacking two major things, however, things that made Erin Brokovich such a success. Those would be, namely, boob left and boob right on Julia Roberts' wonderful chest. Erin Brokovich was a good movie, and Michael Clayton has no boobs. And yet, Michael Clayton is much, much better than Erin Brokovich.

Michael Clayton is a lot like Network, in that a man finally understands the world, and his place in it, and that knowledge drives him over the edge. He goes crazy, has a very public breakdown with hilarious results, and ends up fighting the good fight. In Network, that character was played by Peter Finch, who was terrific. And in Michael Clayton, that character is played by Tom Wilkinson, who is also amazing. Both characters meet a fairly similar end, for fairly similar reasons. Network, however, was about television news, and Michael Clayton is about massive corporate law firms. And Michael Clayton is better than Network.

Michael Clayton is a lot like The Firm, in that it involves a massive law firm, evil corrupt business types, and a plot to get one particular lawyer who can bring down that firm. And both movies involved Sidney Pollack in some way. He directed The Firm. And he stars as the director of the firm in Michael Clayton! However, The Firm had two things Michael Clayton does not. Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman. I would take Gene Hackman in any movie. But I would choose George Clooney over Tom Cruise any day. And Michael Clayton is much, much better than The Firm.

Michael Clayton is a lot like The Verdict, in that the central character is a lawyer who must confront his personal demons in order to fight the good fight and defeat the odds. In The Verdict, that lawyer was played by Paul Newman. It was perhaps the finest performance (outside Cool Hand Luke) of Newman's career. I would take Paul Newman over George Clooney. But Michael Clayton is still better than The Verdict.

Michael Clayton is a lot like No Country For Old Men. Both are films that are critically acclaimed, and both were released to theatres in 2007. They were both released to DVD in 2008, and both are nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories at this year's Oscars. No Country For Old Men has a best supporting nomination, for Javier Bardem. And Michael Clayton has one for Tilda Swinton. And Clooney is nominated for best actor. Both films deserve all these awards. They are both unbelievable achievements. But Michael Clayton will not win best picture or best director. Because No Country For Old Men is better than Michael Clayton.

OK, Michael Clayton is not better than Network. I just threw that in because it fit with my comparison scheme. But Michael Clayton is a genius movie. There are two scenes in particular that are especially effective. One is in an alley where Clooney happens upon Wilkinson, the old friend he has been trying to reign in for the whole movie. The scene makes their relationship completely clear in a few short words, and also shines a light on Wilkinson's "madness". Perhaps he has not lost control of all his faculties, after all. And the second is a scene where Tilda Swinton is primping herself in front of a mirror, adjusting her buisness suit so it is just right. She does a fantastic job conveying both her obsessive nature and the fact that she really is completely lost in this world. She is in over her head, and you can read that in her face as she prepares herself to come off as confidant when she must address the board of uNorth. Both scenes are unbelievable moments in a staggeringly good movie. Michael Clayton would have been the best movie of the year in seven of the last ten years. However, this year, it just happened to be going up against the greatest movie of the millenium, No Country For Old Men. I suggest watching both.

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