Clayton: Movie Review |
by: Tony Gilroy
Wilkinson, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Sydney
Pollack, Michael O'Keefe
Released by: Warner Bros. Pictures
|In Short: What
could have been a run-of-the-mill legal thriller
is an award-worthy drama thanks to palpable
performances and first-rate direction.
and Company Raise the Bar
by Andrew Bender
thrillers are to American filmmaking what a steak and baked potato dinner is to American cooking; lots
of people can make a perfectly edible version, but
an exceptional one sets standards. "Michael
Clayton" is just such a film: the cinematic equivalent
of well-marbled Kobe beef grilled just so.
The elements are conventional enough. A high-powered
York law firm is defending U/North, an agribusiness
giant accused of making toxic fertilizers that infiltrated
water supplies in the heartland. Defending the case
has left the lead attorney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson),
bonkers (he strips naked in a deposition room in Milwaukee).
So the firm sends Michael Clayton (George Clooney)
as its fixer to wrangle Arthur back to sanity and shark
shows why he’s a leading man here. Looking a bit
haggard yet cool as chipped ice, he fixes other people’s
messes while juggling his own: debt, ex, son, brother,
gambling addiction. Tilda Swinton as U/North’s
chief in-house counsel is his mirror image, endlessly
rehearsing her lines and so tightly wound that she’s
got an ever-present sheen of sweat. Swinton doesn’t
so much steal scenes as appropriate them into the pocket
of her tailored suits.
Wilkinson and Swinton are surrounded by the usual legal thriller stock characters:
gruff partner, simple-hearted victim, jerk-o co-worker, steely hit man. But writer
and first-time director Tony Gilroy has chosen his ingredients so carefully (from
Sydney Pollack to a gray, damp Manhattan) that it seems almost effortless as
he whips them into a savory and satisfying concoction.