Best Thriller, not Picture of the Year
I am not going to lie. When I first read about this film, I decided that I do not want to sit and watch a political thriller with George Clooney. When it was nominated for Golden Globes, it peaked my interest, but I still did not care that much. After its Academy Award nod for Best Picture, I decided I had to see it. I was glad that they re-released it in a limited capacity. What I did not realize about Michael Clayton was that it was a legal thriller, not political. It was also very reminiscent of the 1970s thrillers like The French Connection.
Well, it opens with a monologue by Tom Wilkinson about the law firm that he works for and how it is making him crazy. The law firm is avoiding commenting to a reporter about a potential settlement in one of their biggest cases. We then see Clooney portraying the title character getting a call about a client that was in an accident. Clayton is the law firm’s fixer. He helps settle situations that could cause the firm and its clients some bad press or worse. As he leaves the client’s house, he stops and walks out to some horses. His car blows up behind him, and then we flash back. This was huge mistake. This was the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy who also wrote the script. He has written such masterpieces such as Bait, The Cutting Edge, Armageddon, Proof of Life, and adapted the last two Bourne films. So, I am not sure where this idea came from. Gilroy makes the mistake of showing this scene first. I will explain more later on.
The beginning stars with Arthur Edens, Wilkinson, going crazy in a deposition. He has been in charge of this case for six years. It revolves around a new agriculture product causing farmers to get sick and die. He is on the side of the product manufacturer. Yet, he finds proof that it does harm people, and he starts to sabotage the case. Clayton is sent to get him out of jail after a grotesque act caught on film. Clayton is sent to get him by Marty Bach, one of the partners of the firm, played by Sydney Pollack. Tilda Swinton plays Karen Crowder, the representative for uNorth, the agriculture manufacturer. She meets with Clayton about what is to be done. She later uncovers what Arthur knows. She has surveillance put on him and his apartment. Arthur then turns up dead in an apparent drug overdose suicide. Michael Clayton does not believe it to have been a suicide.
This film is slow moving. It develops all the characters very well. The film really follows Michael Clayton around trying to track down Arthur after he escapes, trying to tell Bach that everything is fine with Arthur, and solving what really happened to Arthur. Motives are revealed, loyalties are tested, and the finale of suspense it cut off by already knowing that he is not in the car when it explodes. I would have been on the edge of my seat biting my nails, to be cliché, while the scene unfolded if I had not already seen it in the beginning. Gilroy then tries to “Wow” us with a different finale. I loved the film. It could have been much more suspenseful than it was. Verdict: An excellent film with excellent directing and acting. I recommend seeing it somehow. Rent it if you can’t see it in theaters. Is it Best Picture quality? No. If it wins anything, it will be Tom Wilkinson for Supporting Actor.