Clooney Fixes his Briefs
There would have been a time when I would have started to watch "Michael Clayton" and given up on it because whilst it's a thriller it is not an action thriller. Instead it is an intelligent thriller, a slow burning character driven thriller which almost doesn't make any sense to start with especially with an opening which then flashbacks to 4 days earlier. But those times where I would have given up are gone and trust me the pay-off is worth it when you get to the end of "Michael Clayton". In fact "Michael Clayton" is one of those movies which when it's finished you find yourself realising that what seemed complex was in fact remarkably simple.
Michael Clayton (George Clooney - Ocean's Thirteen) is a specialist, he is a "fixer" who gets sent in to clean up messes which no one else can and whilst he has tired of doing the job, wanting to go back to litigation work his boss Marty (Sydney Pollack) wants him to stay as his go to guy. It is Michael's speciality which makes him critical to a situation when Arthur (Tom Wilkinson - Batman Begins), a crucial lawyer in a long legal suit involving a pesticide company, appears to have a nervous breakdown and Michael is called in to clean the mess up. With the law firm also in the process of a merger it is essential that things are kept in house. But Michael has other issues to contend with including paying of brother's debts as well as the fact someone has just tried to kill him by blowing up his car.
"Michael Clayton" starts roughly 15 minutes before the movie ends as we witness Michael's car blown up whilst he is in a field trying to sort out his thoughts looking like he is on the verge of a breakdown. And then we jump back 4 days earlier and thrown right into the thick of things as we get no introduction to characters or the situation. It is why "Michael Clayton" is the sort of movie if you are not ready to pay attention will be hard going because you don't know what is going on half of the time. But don't let that put you off because slowly things fall in to place as connections are made and suddenly you understand that for example Tilda Swinton plays a lawyer for the company which is trying to cover up a pesticide problem whilst Tom Wilkinson is a lawyer who flips out because he can't protect the guilty anymore.
The thing is that even though "Michael Clayton" sort of leads you a merry dance over what is happening it is still fascinating, grabbing your attention not so much by what is going on but by the way the characters act. Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Arthur the crucial member of the legal team who appears to have a melt down, I say appears because Wilkinson plays him so that maybe Arthur has lost it or maybe he is crazy because he has just seen the light and had enough of protecting the wrong doers. Then there is Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder a woman who finds herself operating beneath the law as she tries to protect the company and most certainly is not comfortable operating in some seedy ways. Plus there is of course George Clooney as the seriously conflicted Michael Clayton, tired of his job, tired of fixing things for those who have done wrong and tired of trying to raise the money to pay off his brother's debts. These 3 performances along with plenty of fine supporting performances make "Michael Clayton" watchable when initially it seems complex and confusing.
That brings me to what is ironic about "Michael Clayton" because it isn't a complex movie, it finishes and suddenly everything becomes clear. You suddenly find yourself understanding the point of scenes which mention the merger, you understand why Karen Crowder was struggling to prepare for a meeting and you understand why Michael seems so conflicted. It makes it worth staying with when initially the temptation is to walk away from what seems confusing and complex.
What this all boils down to is that "Michael Clayton" is a thinking man's thriller where the action is minimal but the confusion is high. It does make it hard going at times but it also makes it worth sticking with for when everything falls into place come the end of the movie.