Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Released: 28 September
Though Hollywood is often referred to as a leftist town full of millionaire commies driving around in hybrids and criticizing the same capitalist system from which they themselves have benefited, Hollywood’s bland family-friendly franchise products tend to reflect otherwise. But there is a strong Hollywood left-wing, with George Clooney as its charming face. And when George cashes in with his big Oceans-whatever picture, you can be sure he’ll follow it up with a slate of films aiming to encourage national debate on the big issues of our time. After the misfire of The Good German, Michael Clayton sees Clooney back on the serious form of his two Oscar-nominated films, Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck. With a group of producers including Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, Sidney Pollack, and Anthony Minghella, Michael Clayton’s directorial duties are put in the fresh hands of first time director Tony Gilroy, the successful screenwriter behind the Bourne Trilogy.
A weary looking Clooney, as the title character, is interrupted from a back room poker table and summoned to a posh suburb in Westchester to deal with a rich prick that is livid after committing vehicular manslaughter. This is Michael’s life – a former detective now working as a “consultant” for a powerful New York City law firm who employs him to tidy up some unpleasant situations involving prominent clients. One of those clients is an agro-chemical corporation involved in a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit in which Michael’s friend and mentor Arthur Eden (a cracked Tom Wilkinson) is immersed - all of which has become quite a big mess that Michael is meant to clean up, or suffer the wrath of a very sweaty Tilda Swinton (as the corporate lawyer Karen Crowder). Putting aside the somewhat tired “corporations bad” theme, which doesn’t cover much new ground, Michael Clayton is much more interesting when seen as a study of a conflicted character. Clayton, much like Gilroy’s Bourne, is at odds with the world around him and struggles with his identity – Cop or lawyer? Miracle worker or janitor? Family man or business man? Clooney immerses himself in the complexities of Clayton, and carries the film in his most nuanced performance yet.
While the plot could have been tidied a bit more, Michael Clayton screens as a tense and entertaining urban thinker in the style of Michael Mann or Sydney Pollack (who also appears here in a supporting role). Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut is as solid as a first feature could be, and with the support of the elite Hollywood left, we should expect great things from him in the future.