MICHAEL CLAYTON (WB, 2007) D: Tony Gilroy, w/ George Clooney, Tilda Swinton. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
I find it hard to understand why the Academy handed all those Oscar nominations – seven in all, including best picture, script, director, leading actor, supporting actor and actress, and score – to what is no more than a well-made, enjoyable but ultimately forgettable thriller.
Tom Wilkinson’s best supporting actor nomination makes sense. As Arthur Edens, the manic-depressive litigator who goes off his meds and thus imperils a giant class action lawsuit, he’s got big emotional moments and flowery language. He’s the guy who’s supposed to tell us where right and wrong lie – like it isn’t obvious.
Tilda Swinton deserves her best supporting actress nomination even more. If anything from this movie lingers in the mind, it’s her reactions in the finale. They sell the climax and the movie far more than star George Clooney’s actions.
Clooney is good enough as the law firm’s fixer, but there’s a jarring obviousness to his choices in the emotional scenes. From someone as supposedly smart and sly as Michael Clayton, we expect a more subtle show of emotion. He broods, he exudes power, he shows signs of stress, but we never get very far under his skin. The deleted scenes fix some of that. They’re worth watching for a stronger sense of who Clayton is and what he does.
Director Tony Gilroy’s script is Oscar-worthy only in the sense that it adds some new elements to a familiar story and then disguises its simplicity with the illusion of complexity and depth. Clayton is a secret gambling addict; his despised brother is a stoner. Character detail, but does it affect the story? Nope.
Clayton’s conversion from bad to good guy determined to bring down the big corporation arises more from the bomb in his car than any moral conviction. At one point, Clayton goes for a recorded confession. Listen closely to the dialogue; he doesn’t actually get it, but the script proceeds as if he does.
Gilroy’s direction, on the other hand, works beautifully. He gives the proceedings a highly effective sombre heaviness and quiet sense of menace. Gilroy is all about the shot and gives good lessons in the hows and whys of shot selection in the enjoyable commentary he shares with his brother John Gilroy, the film’s editor.
EXTRAS Director and editor commentary, deleted scenes with optional commentary. Widescreen. English, French, Spanish audio and subtitles.