A brave title for a bold movie. Michael Clayton sounds boring, missable and drab: and that’s kind of the point – because so too is the title character, a legal fixer with a high-powered law firm, who moves in the shadows, doing the dirty work no one else can. If you’re a hit and run driver, a shoplifting wife, a crooked politician…who you gonna call? Michael Clayton.
Clayton’s a mess, hates his job and wants out. But when the in-house lawyer of an agro-chemical client veers off-message, Clayton’s brought in stave off an expensive class-action. But coming face-to-face with company corruption only shows Clayton what he’s become. And he’s going to need all his washed-out nerve to save himself from a rising tide of extremely murky waters.
In Michael Clayton, George Clooney continues his penchant for issues-based movies. Good Night and Good Luck dealt with one man’s stand against political witch-hunts. Syriana mired itself in the oily world of petrochemical politics and international terrorism. And in Michael Clayton the focus is corporate duplicity.
But unlike the others, Michael Clayton is more of a thriller - more about a man than an issue. Hence the title. Densely plotted, it’s a thinking person’s movie. No high jinks, just an intelligent script, a slow-burning, tightly-screwed plot and lots of very good acting from Clooney and Brits Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.
Clooney loves the conspiracy films of the 60s and 70s and maybe the presence in this of Sidney (Three Days of the Condor) Pollack is no coincidence. And Michael Clayton certainly has the grainy, workaday grittiness of the early 70s films like All the President’s Men – when films were born mature.
Coming on the heels of David Fincher’s seventies-set Zodiac and the present day spy-game Breach, Michael Clayton certainly feels part of a resurgent trend for intelligently-pitched character-driven stories that tap into the angsty zeitgeist of political unease.
Shot in a real-life law firm, Michael Clayton is beautifully filmed by Clooney cameraman Robert Elswit. As bleached as Good Night and Good Luck, Michael Clayton has a chilly, oppressive feel that matches the pent-up paranoia that may just be the death of Clooney’s fixer.
Directed by first-timer Tony Gilroy (writer of the zippier Bourne trilogy), Michael Clayton is a slightly dull but ultimately satisfying thriller that demands as much as it rewards. But – appropriately enough for a film about a class action – it’s a very class act.
Glenn Watson (DI Reviewer), 27/09/07
Daily Info talks to George Clooney about his favourite things - films and politics, and his latest thriller Michael Clayton, in which a legal ‘fixer’ takes care of the dirty work for his clients.
How does Michael Clayton fit in to your career so far?
I had a moment of clarity during Batman & Robin. I realized I’d better start picking better! Then I did Out of Sight, Three Kings and O Brother – and I thought, “Okay, now I understand what I want to do!”. I did Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana because I was pissed off politically. With Michael Clayton, it reminds me of seeing The Verdict with Paul Newman – like movies from the mid ‘60s to ‘70s.
Is making ‘political’ films more important to you these days?
Michael Clayton does have a political theme. But it’s a time when everything seems to be a political film. With this, it’s really about the character and a good story and just plays very well in times when we’re concerned about corporate corruption.
You’re quite overt politically though, aren’t you – your anti-war stance, your backing of the Barack Obama’s bid as Democratic candidate?
I agree. There was a period of time in the ‘60s and ‘70s when actors were leading the charge in the civil rights and Vietnam movements. Then it got to be not such a good idea. So I’ve said to Barack I’ll do the fundraisers, but if at any point it’s better I should stay away, I will.
Is it true you made Michael Clayton free of charge?
In effect, yes. I didn’t take any money, but I’ll make some if it becomes a success. You win some and you lose some. I lost out on The Good German, for instance. But I’ve made a lot of money in the past and now I have a choice – do I do a film like Michael Clayton which I really believe in? Or do I get bored and well-paid by big studios for those I don’t? I’m lucky to have the choice.
What do you think of your British co-stars Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton?
I think Tom learned a lot from me as an actor! (Laughs). The very first day of work was the scene in jail with Tom – it was like jumping into the fire. And Tilda – I’m working with her again now on a new Coen brothers film, Burn After Reading – but I need a step-ladder, she’s so tall!
Your director Tony Gilroy, wrote all the Bourne movies. How did you get on with him?
I don’t like him! (Laughs). No, the minute I met him I knew he could handle 150 people in a film crew. But I don’t like a director who’s better looking than me.
You refer a lot to the films from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Are you disillusioned with modern American cinema?
Not just modern American cinema – contemporary cinema generally. Last year I gave my friends 100 DVDs of my favourite films from 1964 to 1976. It was going to be ’65 to’75 but I’d have left out All the President’s Men and Taxi Driver! We don’t make those films anymore – we can’t come close.
See also: Further Daily Info interviews with the great and good of the film world!
Glenn Watson (DI Reviewer), 26/09/07
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