Tuesday, 26 January 2010

I Am Shiva, The God Of Death.

When Michael Clayton was out in cinemas I didn't have that strong a desire to go and see it. I don't mind George Clooney, I think he is very charismatic and he plays certain characters very well, but I also think that he plays riffs on the same character most of the time. Maybe he's just too big a star and made too many major films riding off his charm for me to now be able to see past George Clooney and instead see the person he's playing, believe the character behind his eyes.

In Michael Clayton, Clooney plays the titular character, a 'fixer' at a major law firm. He has a gambling problem and has managed to get himself into $75,000 worth of debt, thanks in part to his gambling and in part to his failed attempt to set up a bar with his alcoholic brother. Meanwhile, Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), a leading attorney at his law firm, appears to be completely breaking down, stripping off in the middle of a deposition and beginning to deliberately undermine the litigation - the firm is defending an agricultural company against a class action lawsuit worth billions of dollars, and Arthur has come across some memos that he is finding impossible to deal with. Lead counsel within the agricultural company, U-North, is Karen (Tilda Swinton), who is growing more and more paranoid regarding Arthur's behaviour and Clayton's involvement, and is trying to make it all go away. But it's Clayton's job to make sure it doesn't all go away, and his loyalty to Arthur means that he cannot do it. With the rest of the firm in the dark, convinced that Arthur is simply going mad and that he may undermine millions of dollars in fees that the firm desperately needs, Clayton does what his conscience dictates, possibly for the first time in his career. Having almost lost his life, he is going to make sure that somebody pays.

Clooney plays Clooney for the most part, but, particularly in the closing scene, he pulls out a little moment of magic that I hadn't expected. As he sits in a taxi as the credits role, the camera lingering on his face, you can really feel everything going on inside Clayton, as opposed to Clooney. It's very subtle, but very effective. The supporting performances are well recognised, with Wilkinson picking up a Supporting Actor Oscar nom and Swinton taking home the golden man. Sydney Pollack (who also produced) was very good in the small role as Clayton's boss at the firm, with a raft of smaller players holding up their end of the bargain.

And the film works. It's a legal drama, and I am somewhat prone to liking them, I must confess. I get caught up in the game of law, so they work with me. Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplay and was also responsible for the Bourne series among other works, took up directing duties for his first outing here, and proves himself worthy of the title. It's a tight film, tense and dramatic, well crafted and well executed. Robert Elswit (who did the amazing work on There Will Be Blood) creates a sleek, slick world, just the right mix of grimy and shiny to befit these characters who are a mixture of nobility and scum. James Newton Howard (who has picked up eight Oscar nominations in the last eighteen years without a win) does a great job with the score, very light and never overbearing.

It's a very accomplished piece of filmmaking, ticking all the boxes, even if it doesn't quite break out into the territory of a classic or masterpiece. A very enjoyable watch, but probably a film that will fade from memory by the close of this, new decade. Props to the whole work, though. 4 stars.

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