STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 120 Minutes

  • Commentary by: Tony Gilroy & John Gilroy
  • Additional Scenes with optional commentary

The Pitch

A fixer for a powerful law firm gets thrust into the middle of a cancerous situation and has to cover his own ass as well as the ass of his company as a close friend and brilliant litigator decides to blow the whistle on the injustice they’re helping cover up.

The Humans

Director: Tony Gilroy

Writer: Tony Gilroy

Cinematographer: Robert Elswit

Cast: George Clooney. Tom Wilkinson. Tilda Swinton. Sydney Pollack. Michael O’Keefe.Terry Serpico. David Zayas. Brian Koppelman.

George breaks the news to Julia that she’s not in Ocean’s Thirteen.*

The Nutshell

When I saw Michael Clayton for the first time I quite taken. Something about Tony Gilroy’s style of filmmaking, the fractured narrative actually feeling organic and not gimmicky, and the amazing work by the entire cast made it one of those films like Klute or Network or All the President’s Men that really hardwired itself to my spine. I was afraid that repeated viewings would scuttle the pleasure of the movie, but luckily for me that wasn’t the case. Michael Clayton is a mainstream movie for grown-ups and yet another piece of proof that George Clooney is one of the best things we as film lovers have to rely on day in and day out.

The Lowdown

Superficially, Michael Clayton is not unlike other high-minded legal thrillers like A Civil Action or The Client, except the legal aspect is sort of irrelevant. As is the horror at the core of the lawsuit at the core of the story, a chemical in an everyday product that is killing people. None of the film takes place in a courtroom and though the protagonist does experience and eye-opening of sorts this is hardly a message movie. It’s a sneaky little character piece masquerading as a crowd pleaser. It’s a blessing and a curse, at least to audiences who didn’t exactly light up the turnstiles.

“A yeast infection you say?”

The plot is as such:

Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, deserving of his Oscar nomination) loses his shit in a deposition, stripping down to his bare ass in an epiphany about the dark nature of his business, which causes his firm to get their fixer Michael Clayton (George Clooney, also very deserving of his in this, his best performance since Out of Sight) on the job to rein him in and perform serious damage control before all hell breaks loose.

Tilda realizes that Narnia is no Lord of the Rings.

The real joy of Michael Clayton is watching people interact. There’s an economy and realism to the words and how these actors use them that gives the film a much different and cooler vibe, and thankfully it’s not the kind of manufactured cool we’re used to seeing. That’s become too prevalent in recent years, whether residual Tarantino fallout or the simple fact that it’s a heck of a lot easier to masquerade than let the material do the heavy lifting. Tony Gilroy is a gifted screenwriter and seeing him direct his own work showcases an old school mentality that serves material like this very well. It’s no surprise that George Clooney tends to gravitate towards films of the 70’s and this certainly embodies that and Gilroy’s emphasis on smaller character moments over big revelations creates an apt playground for the film’s star.

“But the kid wasn’t good at breaking up with his girlfriend, George…”

Michael Clayton’s a loser in a winning situation. He’s good at his job but at peace with his status as a “janitor” but everything else in his life is a shambles. His home life, his financial life, and his realization that the ideals of his youth have been locked away all fuel a central character in chaos, which is always good for engaging cinema. All of the fire comes from the periphery here, whether it be Wilkinson’s noble but manic whistle blowing, the impeccable Sydney Pollack’s snake-like father figure at the law firm’s advice, or Tilda Swinton’s vicious attempts at damage control. Clayton’s a ship at sea, tossed to and fro by the storm and when the film finally reaches its admittedly easy conclusion, it’s easy to forget just how many great little moments there are.

“Watch it George… or I’ll write more scenes for the Asian kid in Fourteen.”

It’s not The Insider and it’s not the 70’s flicks it owes inspiration to, but it’s a film that comes at you as a big legal thriller and ends up being something else. Something better that the genre allows. One of those films that’ll either leave a viewer cold (as it did Jeremy and Devin of this site) or become one of those that warrant annual viewings. Count me among the latter. Michael Clayton is an engaging and rewarding cinema experience and the arrival of a sensational new filmmaker in the person of Tony Gilroy. If Clooney and Wilkinson weren’t always so good, they’d be the reason the film is so damn special, and they are terrific. But I think Gilroy’s the real horse here and I look forward to much more from the man.

The Package

There are only two special features on this DVD, but they’re good ones. There are a few deleted scenes, including one featuring the significant other of Michael Clayton, which was taken out because it “gave him hope”. That’s fucking amazing. I love that kind of reasoning, and it enhances the fact that Tony Gilroy’s not here to make friends or be accommodating to an audience. It’s a smart decision made even more wise by the fact it’s a damn good scene that was only cut because it undermined the futility of the lead characters’ situation.

There’s also a really nice commentary by Tony Gilroy and his editor. It’s a really nice look into the process and how it came together as well as how the first-time director approached his craft. Particularly interesting was the story about how George Clooney was courted and how it all came together from there. He’s an engaging person to listen to, as is his editor John (yes, they’re brothers). Their rapport helps move things along and oftentimes one will remember a tidbit of information that moves things along.

I find it hard to believe that someone won’t emerge from this DVD a fan of both the film and its creator. Then again, I find it hard to believe that more didn’t get behind this film upon release.

Aw, what the hell. It got a shitload of nominations. I’m right.

9.0 out of 10

* – Keep in mind that I’m the resident Julia Roberts apologist. I’ll do anything for a joke, huh?