"Michael Clayton" was recently nominated for several Academy Awards, one for writing and the other for directing. George Clooney (after winning in 2005 for the equally compelling and excellent "Syriana") was also up against Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor; not bad considering that its director has never officially directed a film up until this point. Of course, Tilda Swinton actually took home an Oscar for her role in this groundbreaking and powerful film. Director Tony Gilroy is certainly someone to watch, and he has been around for years, as a writer of such diverse projects as "Delores Claiborne", "The Devil's Advocate" and of course the recent highly successful "Bourne Ultimatum".
Either way, it is in the same category as the best films of 2007, and that is saying a lot, because 2007 has certainly been a breakthrough year for some excellently crafted and intelligent motion pictures that will stand the test of time. And "Michael Clayton" is a reflection of the paranoid times we live in, make no mistake about it. It ranks along side of "The Insider" as perhaps one of the most amazing legal thrillers I've ever seen.
The film opens showing us the offices of a powerful New York Law firm after hours as the seemingly insane ramblings of a lunatic play on an answering machine, as the credits roll we watch the night cleaning crews make everything immaculate in preparation for the oncoming day, after viewing the film the first time this opening scene takes on a whole new symbolic meaning.
Michael Clayton is revealed to us in the very opening moments as a man playing what seems to be a secret high stakes poker game, after he leaves he takes a drive into the countryside and steps out to admire some ponies, his car explodes behind him, and the film flashes back four days to reveal what could have lead up to this chain of events.
As it turns out Michael Clayton is a powerful attorney that everyone refers to as 'The Fixer' although he tends to think of himself more as a janitor. He has many connections and is usually called in when there is no one else to go to. And he appears to be very good at what he does, although his personal and financial life are seemingly in a shambles due to compulsive gambling, a failed business venture and a brother with some bad habits. He is also quite heavily in debt to a loan shark. Clooney plays a man at a crossroads and completely burned out and he doesn't feel he has received a fair shake from his company, which is on the verge of a merger, which is further complicating things. Still, he picks up his son every day to give him a ride to school from his ex wife's home, although he is a little distant, to say the least. This is Clooney at his darkest and deepest, thoughtful, serious and tortured; his portrayal of a man on the edge is utterly brilliant.
When Michael Clayton is brought in to fix a mess that will shake him to his very core and leave many of the cast at a truly dramatic turning point in their lives by the time it is over. The company that Clayton works for is Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, who have been defending a pesticide company for six years against a class action lawsuit that accuses it of causing sickness. The Kenner team is on the verge of successfully wrapping it up (representing the corporation), until the top litigator, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, in the most amazing and intense performances of the entire film, not to mention of the year) seemingly loses his mind when he stops taking his medication and starts taking his clothes off during a briefing with one of the female class action witnesses. He professes his love for her and seems on the verge of attack as his business associates, in shock, try to hold him back. The more we learn about this man (who was the insane voice on the answering machine at the beginning), the more we realize he is not insane, it is the corporate worlds of lies and cover-ups and deadly secrets that have brought on his frustration, and we also learn he is a tortured and brilliant legal mind prone to panic attacks. But the truth is, his conscience is eating him alive, and he just can't go on like this anymore.
Michael Clayton is called in to try and fix the situation, and the more he learns, the more he becomes concerned. His friendship and respect for Edens goes way back, and he confronts him after the disastrous spectacle and finds out more and more disturbing information about his breakdown. I can't say it enough, Tom Wilkinson's performance is amazing to behold. It is the key reason to watch this brooding and dark masterpiece, and it will leave you shattered. You'll wonder if he has lost his mind or if he has become sane in the end, but you will be shocked as you watch events unfold in this complicated thriller.
Tilda Swinson plays Karen Crowder, an up and coming litigator who is a woman out to prove herself, and the lengths she goes to insure a successful outcome for Kenner and the pesticide company will ultimately test everyone involved and leave many of us wondering how far some people will go to get ahead and ultimately what the true cost of ruthless ambition is. When we watch as so many lives are destroyed by corporate arrogance and witness people literally devastated by a seemingly insane devotion to the almighty dollar, it can truly bog us down. That's where Michael Clayton comers in handy, though, because what transpires during the film by the end is something you are all going to want to see. Because the film is about many things, but it is also about redemption, and it is also about doing what is right in a world where all of the rules have become twisted by greed. This is easily one of the best films I have seen in a long time, and it is one I won't forget anytime soon. You owe it to yourselves to see it immediately.
The picture is framed at 2.40:1 at 1080p on this HD-DVD Combo and it looks great. The style of the film and its shadowy and colorless landscape don't really make it the best candidate for demo material, not to mention the soft focus of many of the scenes, so if you are expecting to be blown away by a slick three dimensional high definition experience, you won't find that here. Although their transfer certainly looks quite good and characters and background are always sharp and easily defined, it is filmed with a subdued style reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh (who produced this film and is also friends with the director). Still, it is an excellent reproduction of the director's intention, even if it won't necessarily dazzle most of you out there.
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track also delivers quite nicely, obviously this is a film with much clever dialogue (it is very well written by the way). There is also quite a little bit of intense subwoofer action during some of the more stressful scenes. We also have some limited surround action, but like I said this isn't a film riddled with bullets and helicopters. Still, the track very well creates an atmosphere of dread and corporate espionage and you will be completely immersed in this world of lies thanks to the excellent sound design, even if it is mostly in the front two speakers. Also, the music by James Newton Howard is stunning, moody and quite captivating in its own right.
The special features on this disc are slim, as it truly doesn't need any, the film speaks for itself and is best left alone. To be honest, who needs a bunch of technical descriptions and self congratulatory actors ruining the moment? We have a few deleted scenes in standard definition that only clock in at about six minutes and were wisely deleted, as they don't add to the film itself. The commentary by Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy is pleasant if not a little subdued. You can tell that Gilroy is happy with the picture and I can't wait to see what he does next. The film is certainly not very heavy in the special features department, but like I said, it doesn't take away from the excellent package. Also, on the flip side we have the standard edition since this is a combo release.
I highly recommend this film, it is something of a masterpiece. The wonderful writing and top tier performances will literally have you on the edge of your seat. This is a thinking man's film and one not to be missed. "I am Shiva, the god of death." is a line I won't soon forget. This is one HD-DVD you must see.