Michael Clayton

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by Tony Gilroy (2007)
Tilda Swinton Stealing the Show: the Most Memorable Corporate Female Character Ever?   (a slapdash review)

A superb crime thriller, dominated by Tilda Swinton's mesmerizing performance. Well, what she showed in _Michael Clayton_ was well worth not just an Oscar for a *supporting* role; I thought her to be the leading character, beside George Clooney -- after all, the final showdown is between these two persons. It is impossible to imagine any better performance in Tilda Swinton's role than the one we got to see here; impossible to portray this top female corporate executive more convincingly than Tilda Swinton did it. Given who she plays, it must have been extremely difficult for an actor to involve the viewer in this despicable character -- yet she managed to do that, masterfully; every muscle on her face got involved in this magnificent portrayal; Karen C. may well turn out to be one of the most memorable silver-screen murderesses of all time! Among Tilda Swinton's greatest moments, beside the showdown with Clooney, was the memorable dialogue in the street, with her "subcontractor", talking in code about "absolutes, right?". Memorable is also Karen's nervousness in handling the e-mailed "self-explanatory" encryption package. Karen C. is a fascinating character; not *once* in the entire movie does she give smile in a sincere, natural fashion; the one time she comes closest to a warm smile is when she... looks at herself in the mirror, preening herself just prior to the climactic meeting of the Board of Directors towards the end. Her nervousness and breathlessness after exiting the almost-empty Board meeting-room / auditorium, are portrayed to perfection, as is her nervous breakdown during and after her final conversation with Clooney. Fantastic and funny scenes are also those showing Swinton in her bra (and such), preparing her breakfast, etc., while rehearsing for her upcoming TV interview; her affectedness is delightful and at the same time repulsive to behold.

Speaking of encrypted e-mails, this is a thoroughly modern legal thriller, true to the spirit of 2007: with cellphones (mostly Blackberries), laptops, flat-screen displays abounding everywhere to evoke the corporate setting. This is done in a natural way, without trying to impose on the viewer.

The movie features superb performances, not the least of them the two actors in the two supporting roles portraying the two corporations' top executives are magnificent: Sydney Pollack and Ken Howard. Sydney Pollack sets the tone right in his first scene, speaking languidly and at the same time suavely into his cellphone, beating about the bush in his conversation with "that c*nt from the Wall Street Journal"; and Pollack preserves this image perfectly right to the end. Howard is similarly flawless as the other top executive; his facial mimicry, every half-smile and enraged infection / tone of voice are right-on-target every time. A quiet, inconspicuous, but outstanding performance is that by Merritt Wever as Anna, the innocent farm-girl. Even cameo appearances in _Michael Clayton_ are played with extreme care -- watch the TV journalist interviewing Swinton.

Geoge Clooney is a good "sparring-parnter" for Tilda Swinton, so to say; which is not a slight on his performance that is excellent and believable. His is a Phil Marlowesque character; and in the final showdown with Swinton, Clooney sticking his chin out cheekily, aggressively and threateningly, he is a credible blackmailer. However, there are just as many moments of tenderness and introspection for Clooney in _Michael Clayton_; his face is like a huge mirror, faithfully reflecting all the various emotions his character goes through in the movie. A great line by Clooney is, "You didn't hire him for his low-key regularity, did you?" A very good scene is that of a father-to-son dialogue, with Clooney assuring his son the little boy wouldn't be a failure later on in his life (with the unspoken addition of: "... unlike myself" -- at least in terms of financial prudence); such conversation may well engrave itself in the small boy's lifelong memory. Ironically, it is the boy's uncle against whom Clooney is warning the boy who provides crucial help for Clooney later on in a life-or-death situation.

Another superb feature of this movie is the minimalistic, subdued, but dramatic musical score by James Newton Howard.

As to weaknesses, Tom Wilkinson had a more difficult, more improbable role than Clooney, the two top corporate executives, or even Swindon. And so, Wilkinsom does not come off quite convincigly at times; especially during the theatrical exchange with Clooney in a dark alley, with Wilkinson carrying a bag full of baguettes; while watching their angry exchange, it was almost palpable that Wilkinson was no more than an *actor* playing a part, and that you're watching a drama, a movie, rather than real life.

This may be partly caused by the movie's screenplay whose awkwardness can be felt at times. There are quite a lot of set pieces in _Michael Clayton_, such as the gamblers' party and their "tough" talk; the family birthday-party; the wife of the careless car-driver smashing the glass on the kitchen floor in the beginning...; we have seen similar cliches so many times before in hundreds of other movies that some of the melodramatic gestures abounding in _Michael Clayton_ might almost seem inadvertently comical.

--Faterson 13:04, 25 April 2008 (CEST)
[watched on 20080424; original writing time on morning of 20080425 (approx. 35 minutes)]

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