Thursday, July 9, 2009
Michael Clayton: Searching for Grace
This is a story of Michael Clayton (George Clooney) a legal "janitor" who suffers a crisis of conscience when a manic-depressive friend and lawyer, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), does the same. While the plot is a typical corporate thriller which banks in occasionally on the audience's suspension of disbelief, it is far more realistic and well crafted than most films of its genre.
George Clooney gives an intense performance, perhaps the best of his I've seen, as the titular Michael Clayton. His boyish, aging face conveys both competence and weariness. He is especially convincing in the miraculous, quiet moments of grace which occur both in a field and a taxi. As Arthur, Tom Wilkinson's English accent occasionally slips through. This does not prevent his portrayal as a passionate, intelligent man searching for morality, high on a chemical imbalance, from resonating. Tilda Swinton as executive Karen Crowder seems perhaps too calculated, but because Karen's intimate moments may be as fake as the calm face she presents to the world, Swinton's acting works perfectly. Acting is believable all around, including Denis O'Hare as a panicked, aggressive client and Sydney Pollack as Michael's efficient, realist boss.
Robert Elswit cinematography is fantastically dark, subtle, and poetic. James Newton Howard's score is also touching, involving throbbing beats and lovely moments of clarity. Tony Gilroy's script is a little overly symbolic, but otherwise incredible. The corporate and legal worlds, Arthur's manic depression, and Michael's psychology and relation with his son are deeply authentic.
This film is engrossing but not full of blockbuster trademarks. It also does not say anything original about the sins of the city, major corporations, and law firms, but what it does say it does in a novel manner. It is a tale of banal evil and redemption, a very common, but a very necessary, message indeed.