Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Now that certain films are screening at festivals, I’m going to jump in and start talking about the fall movies. It’s nice to have entertainment for adults storming the multiplex again, and this is always my favorite time of year. I saw this one last week, and I’m curious to see what Copernicus makes of it, and how it does at the fest overall:
We know Tony Gilroy can write like the devil. The Bourne movies have some of the best scripts of any thrillers, spy or otherwise. But hallelujah, he can direct too. He directed MICHAEL CLAYTON from his own script about a "fixer" (George Clooney) who must reign in an old friend (Tom Wilkinson) who's gone off the reservation and threatens to undermine a billion-dollar lawsuit. Soon Clayton is torn between his buddy and his own interests, and that of his company. He's deep into a murky world where money and power eclipse all else, and if you don't toe the line you are headed for certain ruination. In PULP FICTION parlance, the titular character is "the Wolf," only here he's not quite as mythic. In fact, he has real problems of his own. He's saddled with debt from a failed restaurant venture with his alcoholic brother, he's divorced, and he's got a bit of a gambling problem too. He's a man who sold his soul long ago, but has already spent the money. It is nice to see Clooney play a mortal man for once, even if you can't help but think when he is at his lowest point, "Dude, you still look like George Clooney!" Still, his performance is convincing enough to (mostly) convince you that he has both real problems and real skill. Even better, Tom Wilkinson gives a standout performance as the lawyer who is unstable in terms of both loyalty and sanity. It seems harder to play half-crazy than cranked-up nutbar, but he pulls it off. One minute he's stripping naked in a deposition room, and the next he's quoting the minutiae of obscure law statutes. Equally compelling in a more straight-ahead role as the company boss is the always outstanding Sydney Pollack. He's avuncular with a shade of menace, and the perfect kind of commanding presence called for when you need someone who is both friendly and threatening. Rounding out the cast is Tilda Swinton, playing a lawyer who somewhat reluctantly gets down in the dirt and can't quite find her way out. Her performance is solid, even if she's a bit overshadowed by the other heavyweights here. The soft spot in MICHAEL CLAYTON is that it is straight-up, unabashedly Hollywood. Gilroy knows what the audience wants and he serves it up on a fine silver platter. The plot is a bit twisty, but it is really only a couple of half-turns that are mostly telegraphed. Still, Gilroy cleverly disguises one by having it occur out of order, then telling the rest of the story in flashback. He keeps things lively, yet fairly well restrained. Even when a character is supposed to be evil they are never over the top -- we understand exactly why they do the things they do. And in fact most characters are facing problems of their own creation. Even those internal struggles are not overwrought -- Clayton's gambling problem is alluded to, but not dwelled upon, and there are no tearful confessionals out of anyone. Overall, MICHAEL CLAYTON is solid, if forgettable, big-budget entertainment. If you like thrillers set in the dark underworld of multinational law firms, or any of the leads, then give it a shot. But more than anything, I'm happy to see another fine writer successfully make the leap into the director's chair.