Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Michael Clayton

No spoiler alert necessary. I wish I were you and didn’t know how it ends.
MICHAEL CLAYTON is the best movie to open in fourth place this year. I’m sure it will do better after it wins a slew of Oscars.

But even with great reviews and George Clooney this Warner Brothers picture didn’t open. Jeff Robinov, the studio’s president of production recently announced that women can’t open movies and he would not greenlight any project starring a woman. So now I suppose he’ll expand that to include not greenlighting any project starring a man either.

Clooney meanwhile, gives the performance of his career. There’s something wrong when Dwayne Johnson can open a movie and George Clooney can’t.

MICHAEL CLAYTON is NETWORK meets THE VERDICT meets ERIN BROCKOVICH. For film students it’s a master class in story structure, character development, theme, and dialogue. If one USC film major is found in a theater seeing WHY DID I GET MARRIED? instead of this he should be thrown out of the department and banished to Pierce Junior College.

For all the accolades Aaron Sorkin receives, writer/director, Tony Gilroy may just be the next Paddy Chayevsky. As writer of the Bourne trilogy and now MICHAEL CLAYTON he is proving you can be great without constantly reminding everybody of it.

Every performance in this film is noteworthy. For my money Sidney Pollack is an even better actor than director (and I give him a bye for directing SABRINA). Tilda Swinton (great name) somehow manages to be both a villain and a sympathetic character (is there ANY British actor who isn’t great? I bet Benny Hill could have played Don Vito Corleone.), and Tom Wilkinson as Peter Finch is a shoo-in for an Academy Award (despite Thomas Hayden Church as the “Sandman” in SPIDERMAN 3).

Other notables include: Katherine Waterston as “Third Year”, Remy Auberjonois as “Fifth Year”, and Pun Bandhu as “Four Year”. I have no clue what those roles were but the really good ones make it look so easy you don’t even notice them.

So if you liked NETWORK, THE VERDICT, ERIN BROCKOVICH or any two of the three you should really enjoy MICHAEL CLAYTON. See it now before it becomes a TV series with Matt LeBlanc in the title role.


blogward said...

Non-great British actors, eh? Hmmm, let me see. Seems to me that a lot of them have one 'turn' that fits the role about three times in ten. Though don't most actors? Ralph Fiennes, for example. But even the memory of Kenneth Branagh doing Woddy Allen is painful. And the less said about Liz Hurley (yes, you will when you see her performance) the better. Thanks for the movie tip though.

Anonymous said...

It was great. Too great.

Erin Brokovich and NETWORK left me empowered. And THE VERDICT taught me how to write.

Clayton left me empty. Maybe that's not fair. But this movie has been played out so many times before and provides nothing new to the genre except perhaps perfect execution, that I'm not sure it's relevant. Especially as an independent film (which I believe it was/is).

Give me a movie full of mistakes (ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES anyone???), that at least tries to do something new and I'm 100% there.

Obviously, Gilroy brims with talent. This is just his first film (Director-wise) and it's flawless. I was just hoping for something new, that challenged and played with my expectations.

A great man once said: water's still water no matter how good it tastes.

l.a. guy said...

"A great man once said: water's still water no matter how good it tastes."

I believe that was Aqua Man.

I'm looking forward to seeing MICHAEL CLAYTON. I like Clooney a lot but was really disappointed with Syriana. (Although the disappointment was more with Stephen Gaghan's weak follow-up to the brilliant Traffic)

Sidney Pollack is generally great but I hated him in Eyes Wide Shut... now that I think about it I hated Eyes Wide Shut.

The Crutnacker said...

Wasn't it William Goldman who said, "Nobody knows anything?"

You want to know why nobody went to see it? DVD!

Consider what the average couple has to go through to see a movie. Babysitter: $30 +
Dinner with drink: $40 +
Movie tickets: Approximately $18 to $20
Popcorn and large drinks: $14.00

Then you get to spend 2 hours with the great unwashed, a small but audible percentage of whom have brought their screaming baby and four year old (happened to me at Saving Private Ryan) or are carrying on conversations on their cell phone (every movie I go to). If you're lucky, the projector bulb is rated at half of what it should be for the screen, the print looks like it was only stepped on 800 times, and the sound is slightly better than an Italian dubbed horror movie. And you get to see a movie that reminds you of every jackass you work with during the week.

Or...... you can rent the DVD through Blockbuster ($20 a month), go out for a nicer dinner, then come home and watch the movie on your 52 inch screen, perfectly projected with a great surround system on your schedule after the kids have gone to bed.

Dramas don't succeed much anymore because there is really no reason to see them in the theatre. I really wanted to see this movie, but I'm going to wait for the DVD.

Steve said...

Right on, Ken. Really a terrific film.

Emily Blake said...

I think the reason people didn't go see this film is that they don't know what it's about. The previews have been very vague and it seems like it might be like Syriana - really confusing and way heavy handed.

Reviews say otherwise of course, but when you can look at a preview for Why Did I Get Married and know exactly what you'll get vs a film that looks like two hours of political dialogue, it's easy to understand why people choose the former.

VP81955 said...

Is Tony Gilroy any relation to writer/playwright/director Frank D. Gilroy ("The Subject Was Roses," "From Noon Till Three"?) He wrote a wonderful 1989 film, "The Luckiest Man In The World," starring Philip Bosco, that only a handful of people saw -- and I was in that handful. (Don't think it was ever issued on video, much less DVD.)

Scribe LA said...

Tony is the son of Frank and the brother of Dan and John Gilroy.

Proof of Life is another Tony Gilory script/movie that didn't do well at the box office but should have. That movie, like Michael Clayton, unfortunately did not get the time of day.
- Scribe
* I recently posted a review of the movie on my blog.

Five Pound Bag said...

I saw the movie and agree with Ken that it's tremendous. Not just Clayton but also the secondary characters were incredibly well-developed. Gilroy could have made a movie about Sydney Pollock's character, or Tilda Swinton's, or Tom Wilkinson's, in reaction to the same events - there was so much there to work with.

Wally said...

Once again, Ken, you get it right. I saw "Michael Clayton" the day it opened, and walked out feeling, finally, like they had made a good picture for adults.

Ken: You're like the Colorado Rockies.

Steve from Vermont said...

I saw Michael Clayton at a matinee on its opening day. The theater (on the small side) was crowded, so I'm surprised that it didn't open well. Nevertheless, it is a great film with outstanding performances all around. One of the best thrillers I've seen in a long time.

jbryant said...

There's no question that "Michael Clayton" is a superbly crafted low-key thriller with an intriguingly oblique approach to its narrative. I do wish that this approach felt more like a personal style and less like a clever method of simulating complexity and depth for a story that's actually a bit short on those qualities. Corporate corruption is such a given in this type of film, we'd probably be bored by the story's familiarity if Gilroy didn't trick things up a bit. But I applaud him for aspiring to Lumet/Chayefsky/Pakula/etc. He undoubtedly wanted those comparisons, and he's getting them. It's also interesting that he pretty much avoids putting a human face on the damage caused by the evil corporation, unlike "Erin Brockovich" or "A Civil Action," sticking mostly with the "suits" instead. Ultimately, the film is so beautifully made and superbly performed I can overlook a few minor caveats and recommend it highly.

vid's said...

Great post, it's interesting that film


Anonymous said...


Right on. Othe anon, "Water is still water no matter how good it tastes." Right on.

Max Clarke said...

Good to hear this endorsement. Tony Gilroy was on Elvis Mitchell's show out of KCRW, The Treatment. So articulate and forthcoming about the movie business.

Doug Walsh said...

Not sure where Crutnacker goes to the theatre or when they last time he's been (his argument sounds like the same one my father gives... and he hasn't been to a theatre in 11 years) but I go to the theatre every other month or so and I can't remember the last time I've heard a single peep out of another person in the theatre, unless it was a scene we were all laughing at.

The "shut your trap, turn your phone off" messages they repeat ad nauseum before the trailers start playing seem to be working.

Back on topic, I can't wait to see Michael Clayton.

Beth said...

I'm going this weekend!

The Crutnacker said...

Doug, I'll admit I haven't been since Spiderman 3, where a nice couple brought all ten (not kidding) of their kids and let them run up and down the aisle and let their three year old peer over the side of the two story railing of the stadium seating.

The best part is that they all talked in Spanish during the movie.

Don't get me wrong, I still love to see a movie in the theatre, but as a dad on a budget, I'm much happier to wait for DVD for a film like this, where I can enjoy its brilliance without distraction.

Now a comedy or action flick.... I like to see 'em in the theatre.

Dan O'Day said...

I was about to add, "And also if you enjoy the kind of suspense of a gripping Sidney Lumet film" -- but then I realize Lumet directed two of the films you named as "if you like these, go see this one, too."

As for Kenneth Branagh: His American accent in "Dead Again" was the best ever done by a British actor. The problem in the Woody Allen film wasn't his inability to portray an American; it was his awful miscasting as a character written to be "the Woody Allen character."

estiv said...

Hear, hear. I think I read somewhere that if Clooney wins the Oscar, it'll be for the scene with the horses. The big deal is that it's not a big deal--he's just a very unhappy person looking at something beautiful, which reminds him of everything he's let slip away.

I'd argue that as good a job as Gilroy's done as a screenwriter, he slips a little in this scene as the director. I had to think about it to realize that what happens next (no spoiler from me--go see the movie) is perfectly timed, as it is the real turning point for Clooney's character in the movie, when he finally figures out what's going on. He's reached his limit anyway, or he wouldn't have stopped his car to look at the horses. Then it happens, and he's pushed over the edge, and away from his old life. But the fact that I had to think about it later means that the point is a little bit buried.

Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, wonderful. But while Sidney Pollack may not have great range, sweet Jesus does he make it look real.

Tim W. said...

My two favourite movies this year are Michael Clayton and the Bourne Ultimatum. Mmmm.

I usually hate when people see a movie simply because someone is in it (because that is one of the worst ways of determining how god a movie is), but I'm starting to change my mind with Clooney. I'm going to forget about Oceans 12 for a moment, and he hasn't made a bad movie (okay, maybe I have to forget about the Spy Kids, too) since Batman and Robin. Not all great, but Out of Sight, Three Kings, Oceans 11, Syriana and Michael Clayton are more great movies than I think anyone has any right to make. Unfortunately only Oceans 11 was considered a hit, so apparently good and box office aren't often compatible. Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Emily Blake is right. MICHAEL CLAYTON opened to an extremely weak $10 million last weekend.

slodennis said...

I agree that Michael Clayton is the best movie of the year so far. The acting, direction, script and photography are all superb.

However, even an occasional watcher of CSI can spot a gaping hole in the plot. I was surprised by Gilroy's dismissal of elementary forensics in the movie's lone action scene. Ken, would a young, less-respected writer get away with this?

Dhppy said...

I always liked Sydney Pollack as an actor. There's a saying I use whenever something isn't going well: "That's not so good, Michael". I took this from Pollack's character in Tootsie, who says that line with such sympathy in response to Michael Dorsey's unique problem with a woman: "I did sleep with her, she still thinks I'm gay".

I also liked him in Husbands and Wives, he's one of the few actors who could act alongside of Woody Allen in a scene and not ape his mannerisms and speech pattern.

Stella Louise said...

I just saw this today and agree with you COMPLETELY. Tom Wilkinson is astounding. Most movies leave me feeling like, "Damn--I can write better than THAT!" This one made me feel like, "Damn--I wish I had written that!"

Jonathan said...

I loved the film, from Tom Wilkinson's speech over the opening shots to the final close-up. As for Tilda Swinton - what a performance!


Dwacon said...

So much for my "write strong roles for women" kick.

Allen said...

michael clayton was fine, but certainly not an amazing film. I find it hard to imagine how anyone can say it was the best suspense thriller they've seen in years...there was no suspense. We knew the company was guilty, we knew clayton owed money, we knew (spoiler alert) that clayton survives the car bomb, etc.

Also, suddenly these lawyers have a conscience, cmon now..

The acting was very good, it was paced well, but certainly it was nothing more than mediocre.

Tim W. said...


Apparently quite a few people feel differently. Amazing how that is, isn't it?

Allen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pun said...

Ken, thanks for mentioning the associates in your review. Never thought THAT would happen. There are so many actors who got very little screen time. For instance, the wife of the hit and run lawyer, who barely gets one line, is Tony award-winning actress Julie White. It just goes to show the care that Gilroy took in the casting, down to the smallest role, and it feels good that you recognized that. Despite our small roles, we were actually on set for a few weeks and got to be part of the Michael Clayton family. Thanks for the great review. I think you're right about Tom Wilkinson finally getting his Oscar...glad to see he was nominated for a SAG award.
Keep on rocking,
Pun Bandhu

Anonymous said...

I thought Michael Clayton sucked. Boring as hell.

Liz Burrows Chapin said...

Do you think the Sidney Pollack character was in the failed Murder attempt on Michael Clayton'slife?