Dir:Tony Gilroy USA , 2007, 119 mins
George Clooney isn't out to break the mould with Michael Clayton, a slow, moody and insomniac thriller which wears its social conscience very much on its sleeve. In Syriana andGood Night and Good Luck (and to some extent The Good German) audiences have become familiar with this particular Clooney type - an isolated man on the edge of a moral and personal abyss.
Release will move world-wide in October and Clooney's continued high public profile concern for ethical issues will doubtless feed interest in more thoughtful movies such as these. Michael Clayton's inclusion in competition at Venice should give the film a high-profile media boost a month before its release, and the industry gravitas of executive producers Steven Soderbergh and Anthony Minghella, as well as the onscreen presence of Minghella's regular co-production partner, Sydney Pollack, will doubtless further encourage a general sense that this is a quality product.
Clooney will remain a strong draw for his loyal fan-base, and this film may even help him recapture some of the domestic US market which was always his strong-point until The Good German, which made 77% of its gross overseas and was judged an all-round commercial failure. Warner Bros is releasing the film in the US on Oct 3, following a North American premiere at Toronto, although Pathe is opening in the UK first on Sept 28; the film was sold to independents through Summit International.
As the eponymous Michael Clayton is a fixer for a large Manhattan law company. A hangover from an earlier, simpler period in the company's history, his role never properly explained, Clooney is the 'miracle-worker' dispatched to sort out problems, usually of the embarrassing and delicate kind. His own life is a mess: a solitary divorcee, he's still struggling with the fall-out of an unwise investment and he urgently needs hard cash to pay off his debts.
Beginning and ending with a dash at dawn to assist a wealthy company client who may or may not have run someone over, and the detonation of a car-bomb planted in Clayton's Mercedes, the film then rewinds to explain the car-bomb and not the hit-and-run. It seems that Clooney has been drafted in to fire-fight possibly the worst situation in the history of Kenner, Bach and Ledeen, when the law-firm's top litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has experienced a mental breakdown during a key negotiating session with lawyers and individuals suing evil agrochemicals company U/North in a huge group-action lawsuit.
Now determined to destroy U/North, manic and refusing to take his medication, Edens life is now in danger after U/North chief counsel Karen Crowder (Swinton) takes out a contract on him, quietly, hideously, one evening in her apartment. The pressure is ratcheted up for Clooney because Kenner, Bach and Ledeen is also embroiled in a merger situation.
The opening voiceover from an unseen Edens (Wilkinson) somewhat sets the tone of the whole film, but also sets up a disorientation from which the film never quite recovers. Wilkinson is entirely believable as a man having a mental breakdown, and his friendship with Clooney's character feels nuanced and genuine. Cast against type, Tilda Swinton makes for a good corporate villain, with a genuine whiff of decay about her fighting against another odour, that of moral sterilisation.
This is not the cheering world of Erin Brokovich however, or any kind of rabble-rousing tale which pays emotional dividends forits audience. This is a grim and murky world peopled by noiseless killers and ordered by unhinged boardroom decisions.
Audiences may not immediately warm to the more cerebral aspects of the script written by its director (Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy screenwriter Tony Gilroy), a roundelay of a story which substantially returns to the first scene after a very long flashback.
The musical score, by James Newton Howard, is suitably gloomy and electronic, the cinematography by Robert Elswit bleached out and full of dawn-like, liminal greys.
Castle Rock Entertainment
Original Music by
James Newton Howard
Robert Elswit(director of photography)
Film Editing by