5-Word 365 #068 – Michael Clayton

I’m actually pissed at myself that it took me until now to see this flick. This is the kind of movie everybody should be watching, but so few of us actually do.

Michael Clayton

What decade are we in?

George Clooney is Michael Clayton, a former ADA* now working for the firm of Something, Something & Ledeen in New York as the in-house fixer. He’s the guy that gets a call in the middle of the night when a favoured client thinks he’s just committed a hit and run, or when a Senior Partner strips naked and professes his love for a plaintiff in the middle of a deposition. Usually working in the background, he suddenly finds himself exposed when a client’s dirty secrets start to come out, and has to use all the tricks he’s learned to get out of trouble with his job – and his life – intact.

This is the kind of film they’re not supposed to be making anymore. I would not have been surprised to discover that this was originally written back in the early seventies or something. Complex, intelligent, morally suspect; it’s an adult drama (not in a porny way) about a man who suddenly finds himself doubting everything and everyone he thought he knew. Written and directed by The Bourne Mastermind, Tony Gilroy, the movie drops us into Clayton’s world with no map other than the brief “Who am I?” speech he gives to the latest over-privileged schmuck requiring his special brand of emergency services. It is up to us to tie all the pieces together as we are drip-fed what we need to know. This is a movie you need to pay attention to but that attention will be rewarded.

"Stick with me, kid. I'll make you a star."

Classy. If this site was called 1-Word Movie Reviews, today’s word would be ‘classy’. The film just reeks of class, from the performances to the script, to the camerawork, to the production and costume design, everything has that extra sheen of quality about it. I think by now Clooney has proven himself as one of Hollywood’s smartest operators. Perhaps in twenty years or so, he’ll be thought of the same way as his co-star here Sydney Pollack was in the later years of his career. This is not a flashy role for George – Clayton is a bit of a loser in fact, all things considered – but he still manages to make him just the right level of sympathetic while internalising everything so that you appreciate the shitstorm he gets himself into and want him to find the best way out of a situation that has no easy answers.

"Oh good, the Oscar speech. Wait, you put God on page 12? What is this shit?"

There are no bum notes among the cast at all, but the two Brits Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton deserve special mention. Swinton in particular totally earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. In fact, if it hadn’t been up against No Country For Old Men for pretty much everything, the film very well could have won a lot more awards.

"That bitch up there is still complaining about the speech I wrote her, isn't she? Just wait until she sees that I left out her mother."

In this cynical age of sequels and reboots and lowest-common-denominator filmmaking, it is reassuring that anomalies like this exist. Alongside his leading man, and this film’s executive producer Steven Soderbergh, Gilroy is a man to watch if you’re getting tired of giant robot testicles. For a directorial debut, albeit after fifteen years as a screenwriter, this is an absolute barnstormer.

*Seriously? You don’t know what an ADA is? You need to watch more Law & Order.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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