Friday, February 22, 2008

On Screen: Michael Clayton and The Expectations Factor

I was slow in getting to 'Michael Clayton,' which I saw last Friday at the 70s-imbued Quad Theater on W 13th. I assumed the premise was 'burnt-out sleazy lawyer tries to redeem self,' and this didn't draw me in. I was wrong, and in any case a good movie transcends its premises. Others approached Michael Clayton expecting a breathless thriller on par with 'Bourne Identity,' and left disappointed. Don't get me wrong - there is high suspense and twists, and it keeps your mind working. But there's also character study, and subtle treatment of corporate ethics and morality.

1. Four Words That Encapsule: "Gripping, Acting-Driven, Timely Suspense"

2. Haiku (5/7/5):
a. 'Fixer tries to fix
laywer gone crazy, missing,
enemies in wait'

b. 'Bummed-out clean up man;
lawyer pal gone round the bend;
who plots their demise?'

3. Oblique Commentary: I don't see enough of Tilda Swinton. She thoroughly won me over with two unforgettable performances. First, as the gender-and-century hopping title character of 1993's Virginia Wolff adaptation 'Orlando.' Then came 2001's 'The Deep End,' as the valiant mother trying to protect her family, especially her gay son, from blackmail and ruin, out by Lake Tahoe.

4. Insight: The film is well-directed by Tony Gilroy, but essentially driven by the virtuoso acting of Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and yes, dammit, George Clooney, too... Tom and Tilda accomplish this feat without much back story, as the film is focused on Clooney's title character. All the bit players are pitch-perfect, from Sydney Pollack's umpteenth slightly-sleazy establishment cynic to the youngster adeptly playing Clooney's school-age son as he shuffles between his divorced parents with ennui beyond his years. 'Clayton' uses the highly effective device of showing ten mintues of intriguing developments, and then jumping back 'four days earlier,' only to revisit the ten minutes through a very different prism toward the film's end.

5. Link:
Metacritic review summary - 82 average of 36 reviews - this is an 'A-' denoting critical acclaim. I concur. As does the Academy, judging by the film's six nominations, including three for acting. I expect 'Clayton' to go home empty-handed on Sunday, out-gunned by even stronger competition...

And here's the Michael Clayton trailer - it doesn't begin to convey the nuances of the plot or the ingenious structure... It also shows too much, in my opinion, but you won't know that unless you've seen it, so maybe not...

Cartoon du Jour:

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