Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 153: Michael Clayton (2007) - Rank 4.5/5


This was one of the best thrillers I've seen in years and certainly one of the best films of 2007. Within the first ten minutes, we see Michael Clayton (George Clooney) standing in a field, petting a horse, when his car blows up. Before you can utter "The hell?" the story jumps back two weeks and a whirlwind of events spill forth, inexorably leading up to the assassination attempt on Clayton. Once the film catches back up to itself, the scene is even more haunting that it first seemed - reminiscent of the opening scenes in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

Michael Clayton is a "cleaner" for a powerful law firm If there's a problem, he's sent in to fix it. While the notion of such an avocation might seem utterly cool at first, that romanticized idea is soon dashed as Clayton sinks darker into the corporate underbelly, as he tackles one of the most daunting jobs in his career. The task? Reign in the firm's senior partner, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkenson) who went absolutely daft while in the middle of defending one of the firm's biggest clients - an international, agriculture corporation. Edens suffered a breakdown after discovering that the firm was defending the corporation, despite knowing that the corporation is guilty of putting harmful chemicals in ground water. Clayton must stop Eden before he disgraces the firm and little does he know that the corporation's legal counsel, Karen Chowder (Tilda Swinton), is set out to accomplish the same task, but in a more ruthless manner.

Each character within "Michael Clayton" shares one thing in common: that person must come to terms with his/her conscience to make the decisions that need to occur. Edens couldn't live with the truth, so he defected and Clayton must decide whether he should stand by his law firm or expose the corporation for what it is. It's never presented as an easy decision, making Clayton and many of the other principal characters seem uncertain, flawed and, well...human. Swinton's portrayal of Karen Chowder epitomizes this theme, for she's seen nervously pacing in her hotel rooms, rehearsing speeches prior to presenting to boards of investors with all the ferocity of a true corporate shark. In fact, any time she's confronted, she maintains her ruthless facade, all the while, you can see pain and sadness within her eyes the moment the conflict is over. And there a more versatile actor in Hollywood? He's almost laughably silly at times as Edens, but he terrified filmgoers as Carmine Falcone in "Batman Begins" and garnered sympathy as the father of a slain child n "In the Bedroom." Even Sydney Pollack soars as the firm's stone-cold patriarch. It's such a complex and moving film, I find it fitting that the main visual the viewer is left with afterward is a shot of George Clooney riding in a cab, his expression subtly fluctuating between someone who's fighting off both laughter and tears - a representation of the emotional turmoil of the story's events.

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