Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chicago Film Festival: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is the fall season's most interesting and rewarding contradiction. Overplotted, and guilty of repeating the same backward-looping structure that writer-director Tony Gilroy just pulled off with greater ingenuity in The Bourne Ultimatum, but nonetheless commanding in its shape and refreshingly alert to how a real person usually experiences one crisis within a web of other crises: professional, ethical, domestic, and introspective. Inconsistently acted, but never poorly acted, and graced with several distilled examples of truly inspired performance. Handsome in look and pristine in texture, even if the movie's elegant sheen affiliates it with the high-gloss corporate aesthetic that the rest of the film seems designed to interrogate, even to criminalize. Thematically diffuse, especially when we're asked to take such a debonair star as an emblem of modern disillusionment, and even more so when the broad diseases of a culture get repackaged at the conclusion into a duel between two paragons of Honesty and Deceit. Paradoxes abound all over Michael Clayton and impress themselves on every level of my response to it. And yet, say whatever else you will, such pervasive, inchoate dispersal of such mutually permeating anxieties has rarely been evoked so tautly at the center of a post-9/11 Hollywood movie, and the multiplex needs more movies where life, work, morality, and debt comprise the constellation of adult experience, unimpinged upon by concessions to youth audiences and unameliorated by any whiff of romance. Enigmas and imbalances of power persist. Sex remains the furthest thing from the movie's mind. Time-honored structures of narrative wobble, even if the wobbling betrays no truly radical inclinations. Even the audience-friendly finale affords plenty of room for the putative victor to sink back into doubt and impotence and for the villain, or the offstage cadre of villains, to sprout new hydra-heads and think of new survival tricks. Credit watchers, we few and proud, are rewarded by this movie, which isn't over until the final blackout cut, when the hero's name, spookily rendered in the serifed idiom of the corporate business card, doesn't grace or complement Michael's image but actually snuffs it out. Click here to read the rest...

Photo © 2007 Section Eight/Warner Bros. Pictures

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2 Comments:

Blogger Cal said...

I completely agree with you about Tilda Swinton. The character could so easily have become very 2-D and I thought she handled it brilliantly.

I really like Michael Clayton but I don't think it works that well as a character study. I know what you mean about Grant in North By Northwest but Grant brought his star charisma to everything in a way Clooney does -- less so in this though I agree.

At the end it feels like Gilroy expects us to be in awe of Clayton's "reversal", but I didn't feel like there was much to redeem for. It kind of reminds me of The Insider, but less daring and better made.

4:48 AM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

you are amazing. great review

i like Wilkinson's performance much more than you do though... for me that final sequence between the colleagues (which you're right to hold up to the light) was so chilling that it did more than just redeem, it justified and informed the previous arguable overkill.

and Tilda... what I love most about the performance (aside from that completely human first shot with the sweaty armpits -WHAT? in a movie?) is how I could tell the whole time watching it that some people would be very turned off by it. I haven't read any reviews other than yours but i'm assuming not everyone will love what she's doing because of what she's doing: making a stock role her own and taking big risks with it.

12:37 AM, October 18, 2007  

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