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Our review of Michael Clayton, published February 11th, 2008, is also available.
The truth can be adjusted.
Tony Gilroy has long been an accomplished screenwriter, and most recently his claim to fame has been scripting the very successful Jason Bourne franchise. He has now decided to take on additional duties as part of the Hollywood entertainment machine, and Michael Clayton was his first directorial effort, resulting in quite a chunk of critical acclaim. So now that it's on next generation video, it's got to be good, right?
Facts of the Case
Gilroy also wrote the script for his work too, with a story that has been almost a decade in the works for him. The title role of the film is played by George Clooney (Ocean's Thirteen), who has been a longtime lawyer in a firm where his role is to act as a fixer of sorts. He knows where the proverbial bodies are buried if things ever happened to him. One day though, his colleague Arthur (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins) takes off his clothes during a legal deposition and has an epiphany of sorts, renouncing his work as part of a class action lawsuit for a company accused of poisoning and killing several hundred people. As Michael learns more details surrounding his friend's breakdown, he develops a crisis of conscience and starts to question his own role in the success of the firm that employs him.
A lot of times when you have a screenwriter who's been writing for awhile, they appear to be very self-aware when it comes to direction and what they want to do, and Gilroy is another example of this. The story he's put together is very strong and the actors that are cast are solid performers from top to bottom, and it helps if those around you are capable and up to the task. For instance, in the commentary for the film during the scene where Michael and Arthur meet after Arthur's breakdown, Gilroy states that with all of Arthur's lines in that scene, a lot of actors would probably have blown it out of proportion and hammed it up, but Wilkinson's voice rarely elevates above a shout, and the lines are delivered with passion and restraint that makes his character transformation wholly immersive. Wilkinson received an Academy Award nomination for his performance with good reason.
In addition, Clooney received recognition for his work also, and he provides an understated intensity which doesn't seem to diminish at all in the film. I especially loved the scenes when he appeared with Barry (Michael O'Keefe, Caddyshack) or the firm's partner Marty (Sydney Pollack, Eyes Wide Shut). Even as he was dealing from weakness, and being forced to accept money in exchange for looking the other way, he manages to still retain some strength in the position. Then you have Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia) as Karen, one of the legal representatives for U/North, the company being sued. She seems like she's barely on screen, but she's always shown rehearsing her lines or making sure her wardrobe is in as much place as possible. When she is thrown into a morally precarious situation, she does so without knowing what consequences that might be in store for her. It's an amazing interpretation and worthy of the praise she received.
Technically, the 2.40:1 widescreen disc uses the VC-1 codec and looks good. The blacks are pretty deep and provide some contrast, even if the color palette is a bit muted. There are times where the image appears a little on the soft side, or more to the point the tight shots don't possess the detail I was hoping for, but it's not a complete disappointment. I was kind of bummed that a lossless track wasn't included on the disc though, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is clear, and the dialogue is well-focused without any real immersion to speak of, but there is some sporadic subwoofer activity. It sounds about as fine as the picture looks. The other disappointment is that there aren't a lot of supplements, but the commentary with Gilroy and his brother John, who serves as the film's editor, is worth the listen. Tony discusses his original intent of the story and how the participants came together in it, and there are some production details and stories that are recalled also. Tony even discusses the plausibility of some of the scenes in the film, even as John pokes fun at him every so often. It's a good track. There are six minutes' worth of deleted scenes with optional commentary, but they don't really add anything to the final cut.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A word to those who have not yet seen the film and are curious about it: this is by no means your traditional legal-based film. This is a film about lawyers where there are no courtrooms and no grandiose speeches designed to woo the masses. This is about a guy with a slightly rusty moral compass who happens to be a lawyer. So if you look at it with that kind of prism, you're probably going to avoid any disappointment at the end of the day.
The way that Gilroy approached the story when he was writing it appeared to be simple. To paraphrase, he said that he wanted to try and write as many checks for the audience as possible when it came to things that they should pay attention to, and that he would cash in on them by the time that things were done. Michael Clayton is more than adroit in this accomplishment, with totally convincing performances and story that Gilroy has managed to do for himself like he has time and time again for other directors. If only this thing had had some nice extras to go with this great film, but otherwise it still deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
Gilroy and group are not guilty and are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Tony Gilroy and John Gilroy
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