I’ve had a one-sentence review of Michael Clayton before on my site but re-watching it on the BBC iPlayer really makes me want to say some more about the thriller – although if you’ve not seen it I’ll say it’s worth seeing, again I might as well say it has some great performances and some really well paced drama which is quite a lot more intense then people shouting or running around or being shot as thrillers sometimes are.
Watching it for a second time (this is probably my third time watching it in fact) really does help bring forward just how well told the story is, with a massive amount of unsaid dialogue portrayed just by physical acting. There are no triages of moral justifications or outbursts of people bent on revenge, which is what made it so fascinating to watch.
The way it did start into the story, and how it kept certain scenes outcomes hidden or off screen works well to make you think and piece together things, and also be surprised at times what is done. I think the choice to show Michael Clayton’s car blowing up was a fascinating choice but does make you immediately interested in how on earth that happens to a seemingly low-key lawyer. You never see any of them in court, so it is refreshing to see the actions without a gavel going down.
Tom Wilkinson is bar nothing the most amazing part of the film, especially how his character actually is portrayed as mad, clinically unbalanced – and is said to be on medication, yet once the truth is revealed it was almost exactly as he said and he was entirely morally justified and that he only came to his senses by seeing what happened to one of the plaintiffs. Seeing such a character die was pretty a sad point, especially since you know it wasn’t suicide. It was very easy to take his character seriously once you know why he was thinking as he did, which is good since such characters usually are unintentionally funny and unsympathetic.
Tilda Swinton portrayed the antagonistic legal council well too. You do not need a lot of reasoning behind why she goes so far – it is set up extremely well that she is overworked, stressed, in a tough job working a tough case, and also fairly paranoid once the plot begins. Her breakdown at the finale is well justified – she’d already called hitmen to take two lives, something that makes her more human then just “being evil” is that she does have to think before making it happen (and interestingly don’t ever hear her make that final decision on screen, but that helps make it more unknown what will happen).
George Clooney also played a great part; a thriller lead who simply isn’t perfect and who does need to think about what he is doing. It’s not black and white – owing money to the mob from a failed bar, gambling issues, having a broken family (divorced obviously, and having a dead-beat brother who didn’t hold up to helping him get a bar going). Then selling out his friend both when he was alive by not believing him and especially when he was dead by taking the cheque is a situation I hope I’d never have to think of in any capacity (in a “Wouldn’t you do the same?” kind of way). He also has his past – turning his back on a past of District Attorney work and going into dubiously ground fixing issues, mentioned a few times in the film.
His moral turning point was really nicely done, with him realising his bar wasn’t worth selling out for (after being called on it in his poker game and perhaps just then noticing his relapse into poker because of meeting the same guy who previously beat him) and going about doing what he is paid to do isn’t the same, obviously thinking it all over (and the way they frame his twitch at the comment “you’re any good at it” towards his performance as a fixer, near the end) – thus needing a break and seeing the horses (a nod perhaps to the earlier discussion on his sons fantasy book). You do wonder if he made the decision before or after his car blew up, but quite likely he’d already made up his mind but that by far settled it.
It was also interesting seeing the conclusion film being him just taking a taxi ride, to nowhere (which I rewatched a few times, it is interesting). Perhaps he felt the same as Tom’s character, more purged and certainly hopefully free from the burdens of his past work, but most certainly he was thinking hard about the decision. There was no immediately happy ending of characters congratulating him, a rosy sunset or even a corny newspaper report on the case – life does go on, despite his moral victory and obviously doesn’t bring back what was lost during the plot – his friend, his job and the people affected by the U-North poisonings, nor the time they’ve spent fighting it, nor his time spent in such a job that in the end he didn’t enjoy doing. However he did make a massive decision on what to do.
I think you do see him hint a smile towards the end of the clip. A nice reminder he can smile – you barely ever see him do so, hopefully he’s felt his redemption was worthwhile and can go on, since he seems to relax more as the drive goes on.
All in all a great film for having all the characters not be completely black and white and actually needing to think now and again. Redemption in the film is hard to find, especially with such a focus for the plot being poisoning of humans intentionally by a company and the lawyers defending them. Seeing it a few times has it make a lot of sense – not just the pacing or the characters inner thoughts (many of which you can sort out by the end of your first viewing thanks to the great presentation) but how the plot is pieced together and why the characters act the way they do and simply how tough it would have been for them.
Still full of thrills, again I’d recommend watching this (it’s on the BBC iPlayer after all!). It is much more interesting and deep then some cursory glance might portray.