Clooney’s latest teases more than it pleases
George Clooney is a true, old-fashioned movie star. That term is bandied about a lot these days, but in Clooney’s case there’s no debating the term. As such, he can make the films he wants to make and his masculine grace as an actor makes almost any film he’s in watchable. “Michael Clayton” is certainly that– watchable. But as it piles on plot point upon plot point and introduces characters every few minutes for what seems like nearly an hour, this corporate cover-up thriller will leave many viewers scratching their head.
Complexity is fine as long as it leads to a worthwhile destination. But the ending of “Michael Clayton” relies on a confession-provoking device that’s so familiar it is now clich?. Even “Law and Order’ wouldn’t dare use it.
To some, the acting alone may be worth the ride. Clooney stars as the titled character, a “fixer” in a major New York corporate law firm. His job is to assess the needs of the firm’s big-time clients and clean up any messy details before or while his firm tends to the legal mumbo jumbo. On occasion he may have to look after the firm’s own attorneys, as is the case with his firm’s representation of U/North, a huge agrichemical firm that is the target of a class action suit. Tom Wilkinson is excellent, Oscar worthy, as a once-brilliant defense attorney who has gone mad with paranoia and also appears willing to blow the whistle on his own corporate client. Clayton becomes trapped in a moral dilemma: how to help his friend and be true to his firm, and yet listen to his instinct that tells him that the client is hiding something.
A failed business venture that leaves him $75,000 in debt increases the pressure on Clayton, and Clooney wears a distressed look on his handsome visage in nearly every frame.
For all its shadowy ambience and murky environs, “Michael Clayton” doesn’t really have a compelling story to tell. Unlike the similarly-themed “Erin Brockovich” or “The Insider,” the film sheds little light on the merits of the issues that hang in the balance. And unlike the best of the John Grisham adaptations (e.g. “The Firm”), we’re not sure whom we ought to root for in “Michael Clayton.” That’s the drawback to a thriller whose “thrills” are based more on psychology than real action. Change a few of the details and its “Syriana” all over again.
That may please some, but good acting alone can’t make up for an absence of plot twists, action sequences, and a case worth dying for. “Michael Clayton” wants it both ways. It requires smarts to understand what’s going on, and a lack of smarts to care and not be able to predict the outcome.
Rated R for language and some sexual dialogue