"Do I look like I'm negotiating?"
Watched it on DVD last night. Hadn’t had any interest in seeing it. At least now I can say that I saw all five films nominated for Best Picture Oscars this year, and Tilda Swinton’s winning performance. Otherwise it was pretty much a waste of my two hours.
The film centers on Michael Clayton, a bummed-out guy who works for a Big Old Law Firm, running around cleaning up messes, helping big clients get local representation when they’re involved in hit and runs, etc. Michael has some problems of his own: he’s a divorced dad, he has gambling problems and a bozo brother who has ruined a business that Clayton set up for him leaving Clayton holding the financial bag, and so on.
Clayton’s Big Old Law Firm is handling a Gigantic Multi-Billion Dollar lawsuit, representing a bunch of people who are suing a Big Old Chemical Company for damages having to do with a toxic pesticide. The Partner handling the Gigantic Lawsuit loses his mind, and Michael has to clean up the mess, which he soon realizes is a lot messier than he had imagined.
I’m breathing a lot more life into the film’s cliched storylines than the filmmakers manage to. It takes very nearly an hour for the two paragraphs worth of plot above to get established onscreen, believe it or not. There’s also a flashback device that feels rather like it was added post-production in an attempt to get some kind of energy into the proceedings, but winds up being counter-effective.
There’s no denying that the film overall is well-intentioned. It seems to want to transcend the legal thriller genre, to be more than just a bunch of courtroom/legalistic shenanigans, but it just doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to transcend the genre with. This is a Serious Movie, make no mistake. We get lots of sad character information about Michael Clayton, all of it grim grim grim, and nobody else seems any happier. There’s a lot of mood lighting and overcast skies and involved corporate legal jargon stuff. Even the obligatory Big Finish is muted, as Michael’s Triumph Over Corporate Evil nets him only a cab ride into an uncertain future. There’s just none of the life and energy (the entertainment value, in short) of even the most exhausted Grisham knockoff. I’m not saying I wanted shoot-outs and bizarro Tarantino dialogue, but I would have given a lot for the film to have been directed by a Sidney Lumet or a pre-OUT OF AFRICA Sidney Pollack.
The actors try their best to make all this work, with Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson being only the most recognized of the generally good cast. Even Denis O’Hare gets some good fun going as a pissed-off client, who inspires one of Clooney’s best slow burns. But without a director able to consistently keep the pacing lively and get some (metaphorical) blood flowing, MICHAEL CLAYTON is DOA.