I posted a review here last July 25th of the new FX Networks cable series, "Damages." I was raving about it after the first episode. I'm still raving about it, but this isn't another paean to it (still in its first season Tuesday nights), but a review of a new, big screen Warner Bros. picture written and directed by Tony Gilroy, called "Michael Clayton."
If you've been watching "Damages" you're already on board for "Michael Clayton." Both stories are post-Enron: big time, big city, big corporation corruption stories with very smart and smarmy legal eagles and CEOs trying to bring in big bucks to save careers, businesses and firms, all of which, of course, add up to their professional butts. You can taste their motivation. (Chew reviewed the 2005 documentary, "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room"...webmaster)
Smooth and hip George Clooney is in the title role. He's a 'janitor' lawyer; an attorney way down on the totem pole in the big time New York corporate law firm called Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. Putting it less delicately: he's a gofer; a fixer; a guy who covers up potentially nasty legal traps for KB&L's big time clients. Money, do that talkin'.
U/North is a fictitious but not unfamiliar agrichemical company that's up to its beaker spout in a multi-million dollar class action suit that KB&L seems to be wrapping up rather nicely, thank you. Tilda Swinton is U/North's in-house counsel, Karen Crowder. She's overloaded to save her career by protecting her corporation from taking a big money and image hit. Motivation is the new sensation.
Clooney's Clayton is drawn into the fray by his big boss, Marty Bach, played to perfection by one of the picture's producers, Sydney Pollack. (Another producer besides Clooney himself is Steven Soderbergh.) Michael has his own problems. He's a former prosecutor from a family of cops.
There's a gamble monkey on Michael's back; he's up to his debt-debt in overdue payments for a gone-sour restaurant business, but he's got a good relationship with his bright, young son who may be reading more heavy books than he should. There's a straight-talk father-to-son scene about how the boy 'will always be strong' that got me closer to tears than I wanted to be taken.
Brit actor Tom Wilkinson is cast as a brilliant attorney named Arthur Edens. Arthur is KB&L's top litigator. He's been working on the U/North suit for years. Edens goes off his medication and, seemingly, his rocker. He becomes so overwrought by the case he 'loses it' and disrobes during a U/North deposition being videotaped in KB&L's office.
There's no motivation here, just a painful moment of truth as Arthur makes a total, full frontal confrontation with his own deception. I like to call guys who 'act up' like this as dudes FINALLY having their 'Howard Beale' moment. (Thank you for your humanity, Mr. Chayefsky.)
Clayton gets in so deep trying to extricate Edens from his truthful jag, murder comes into play---much like what's been happening over on "Damages." But this new Clooney vehicle is less glossy. It's more weary in tone and not quite so well-laid out as "Damages," which is a tour de force of what I'll call delayed exposition or selected exposition of the narrative.
"Clayton" is denser than it ought to be and could use a little less short-handedness. That's something I believe past Clooney/Soderbergh collaborations have suffered from, albeit to my way of thinking, this latest picture is the best brought forward by the pair.
This short-handed style, as I call it, seems forced and could be intended to give the film a bigger sense of smartz. The film is already smart and gives the viewer the sense of how ugly life can be for those with 'it all' and who enjoy 'all of it' in the fastest of lanes. Subtly can be cool, but it can also make for cloudy communication.
Bailing out "Michael Clayton" is the payoff. Great scenes with fine actors delivering biting dialogue put a great finish to this cold and collected look at how things seem to be early on in the 21st Century. That's because everyone in the film has a cell phone.
Bunched together, they walk talking in whispers to others not present.
"Michael Clayton" preview.