Michael Clayton

A month or so ago, some friends and I were talking about all of the movies we hadn’t seen.  Not literally all of them, that would be absurd, strictly the really famous and semi-famous ones.  I later wrote down a list of about 60 flicks that seemed like the most pertinent.  I started working my way down the list and watched Midnight Cowboy the next day.  So, you can see I got started immediately.  But then I slacked off.  I looked at the list the other day, and noticed that I had only watched two others that month-Drugstore Cowboy and Wall Street.  Now, I wasn’t in any rush to blaze through the list, but this was disappointing.  Three movies?  That’s weak man.  However, I’ve gotten back on track this week.  I nailed five of those suckers.  Michael Clayton, Friday, The Wages of Fear, Rashomon and Manhattan.  I might finish the other reviews eventually, but for now, here’s Michael Clayton.

Whoa, I finally did it.  When this came out a few years ago, all I heard was the ridiculous hyperbole Peter Travers and his ilk usually reserve for Jason Reitman movies.  Everybody loved Michael Clayton.  They might have wanted to hug him as much as Juno, but holy shit, people were diggin Michael Clayton.  So there was no way it could ever live up to the hype, right?  Well no, when all of the sane people finally got around to reviewing it, the situation looked even worse.  “Yes, this movie really is good.”  They said, “but it’s gonna be one where you really have to pay attention.”

“Nuts.” I said.  “There better not be a bunch of characters for me to keep track of.”

“Nah.”  Said everybody.  “There’s not too many.  But you do have to keep track of all of them.  Seriously, you’re not allowed to blink or you’ll miss something.  If your focus drifts away for over a second, you’re fucked.  However, it really is a great movie, so you’ll have to see it eventually.”

“Damnit.”  I said.  “Will I ever be ready for Michael Clayton?”

So I watched The French Connection.  I watched Primer.  I watched all three Matrix movies in the same sitting.  I watched Videodrome.  I watched Southland Tales-multiple times.  I watched Inland Empire.  Last night, I watched Michael Clayton and I have good news.

Michael Clayton is not nearly as confusing and incomprehensible as any of the above movies.  Well, most of them anyway.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s still pretty tough.  For example, the movie opens with Sydney Pollack delivering this incomprehensible speech to Cloon the Goon, and then some stuff happens four days later in the timeline, and then, half an hour into the movie, Sydney Pollack picks up again.  It’s probably as hard to follow as the second Matrix, but not as confusing as the third.

The director is Tony Gilroy, who mostly just writes other people’s thrillers-Devil’s  Advocate, The Bourne series, Bait, some other stuff.  This is his first shot at directing, and it comes off like a lot of other first-time efforts from other guys who’ve been working in movies for a long time.  It reminds me a lot of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Tommy Lee Jones debut directorial joint-slow, quiet, but plenty of stuff going on.  But that was an actor’s movie, and this is a writer’s movie.  Dialogue is important here, and not in a “drawing attention to itself” Glengarry Glenn Ross way.  It’s more about what’s not being said than what is, so I guess we’ll also give props to the actors, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Cloon the Goon, etc.

Michael Clayton is confusing, but not in any weird metaphysical ways.  It’s confusing the way a good crime story is, because that’s what it is.  The title character is a lawyer, but not a trial lawyer, he’s a different kind of guy his prestigious firm keeps on staff to do their dirty work.  Inevitably, Mike (Cloon the Goon) gets involved in some stuff he shouldn’t be getting his head into, etc, etc.  Not to say the story’s predicable, it just fits into a certain mold of crime story.  It’s not a lawyer movie or a mystery movie, it’s a crime movie-It’s not about solving the problem, it’s about living with yourself when you do shitty things to people for a living.  It’s a damn smart movie too.  Only once did I notice it dipping into the land of heavy-handed symbolism, but it comes so early on, and there’s so much that has yet to be explained that it pulls it off.  I guess there was the bit with the horses that I didn’t really get, but it’s not like there was a Chris Cornell song playing in the background, so I’ll let that one slide too.  This is classic noir.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave you with that.

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