Michael Clayton

michael-clayton-truthGreat performances, great script, well directed, but best picture?  I’m not so sure.

Tom Wilkinson stole the show with his great performance as a disturbed corporate attorney.  Clooney was very good.  But maybe Wilkinson’s character would have been more interesting to follow.

Tilda Swinton was good, but her part didn’t give her all that much to do.  She had some heavy moments, but not a lot to connect them up and give them more weight.  She did the equivalent of a good performance in a dark and moody music video.  So it’s no fault of her own that her role wasn’t meatier.

Scene by scene the film is very well scripted.  But the ending wasn’t entirely satisfying.  We hear about the things Michael Clayton can cover up, but we don’t really get to see it.  The one glimpse we get of him doing so he just passes off to another attourney, already too far down his own dramatic road to let the audience catch up with him.  If we had started earlier in his personal arc we could have seen this dramatic motion more.

This means that in the end when he makes the moral choice and fakes asking for a bribe to set up the antagonists it doesn’t feel all that interesting.  Since we didn’t come as far with him, the more satisfy7ing thing to do, and the more daring, would have been for him to finally give in to his own nihilism and take the bribe, bury the evidence and dissapear back into the shadows.  The current ending just feels easy and formulaic.  It was so expected that I even checked the deleted scenes on the disk to see if this was a studio forced change on the original vision of the film.

michael-claytonI chose the poster with the copy “The Truth Can Be Adjusted” because that’s what the film fials to show.  If we had seen a lot of deception and manipulation of public perception, then the “truth-will-out” ending would have been fine.  We hear that Michael Clayton has cleaned up a few things in the past that seem impossible to conceal.  But we aren’t shown, or even told how.  Just as a hitman-turned-good movie needs to show us the hitman’s skills before he switches sides so we know what he is capable of, this film needed to do the same thing with its protagonist’s abilities.

Ultimately it’s still a great study in acting and scripting.  But as a whole it’s missing something.  Rather than being modeled on the sort of French cinema that would do the daring ending I would have prefered, it reminds me of French quisine, well crafter, but not substancial enough to satisfy.

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