A: Since you ask, he's one of those big-shot "fixer" attorneys that gets anything and everything done. Do fixers like this exist in real life or only in movies and TV? Seriously, I don't know. But Clayton is good at what he does, though he has some demons and some issues to work through. You know what, though, part of the intrigue of the film is that we don't really know all that much about him at first. In fact, with most of the characters, we get just enough info we really need to know, with a lot withheld, for plot considerations but also for the overall atmosphere.
Q: Clooney has talked about the desire of director Tony Gilroy to make a seventies-ish thriller. Did he succeed?
A: The movie does indeed play like a smart, moody adult-oriented thriller, the kind movie critics and people who see a lot of movies say they wish Hollywood produced more often. Gilroy does a fine job of creating that dark, tense atmosphere with the camerawork, editing, and use of sound. Scenes become more unsettling and realistic with long takes or silence.
Q: Ah, so Clooney didn't direct this one? Gee, the way this was promoted, you'd think he did. That's all I was hearing about with this one, is Clooney this, Clooney that.
A: Hey, he is a movie star, after all, and that's how they sell the movies. Clooney is front and center in the marketing of this picture, and by all accounts, he did play a key creative role in the making of it, so it's no big deal. Gilroy sure seems to know what he's doing, though. But isn't it interesting to note the possibility that people see the name "George Clooney" and EXPECT an intelligent film?
But give Clooney credit for a fine performance of his own--check out the way he handles a scene with Tom Wilkinson, a colleague who jeopardizes the firm's huge deal by apparently going nutso in the middle of a deposition, explaining himself. His reactions show conflicted emotions, restraint, frustration...I really enjoyed Clooney's nontheatrical but intense acting in this movie. Long way from the classic head tilt/rakish grin combo used so often on "ER."
Q: This is one of those "fracture time" screenplays, huh? Is this a convoluted, gimmicky story?
A: At this point, it takes more balls to just tell a story in order than to "play with time." At times I can't help but feel "Michael Clayton" is doing this to spice up what is ultimately a rather standard plot. The machinations of Corporate America don't provide fresh villainy here (with one exception I'll get to in a minute), and the story just doesn't grip the way you'd like to. I think the movie features stellar craft and acting, but I was disappointed by the plot and particularly the cheap denouement (though a fantastic final shot salvages the overall ambiguous tone and nearly makes you forget it).
I do give credit to Tilda Swinton, who plays a shady suit with a startling vulnerability. Kudos to the filmmakers for showing a person who does some unsympathetic things in a multifaceted light. Much time is spent, for example, showing her practicing a presentation, sweaty and anxious. Plus the character's storyline is resolved in a way that really surprised me because it's not often you see it happen to a realistic female character. Academy, are you searching for actress nominations? Here you go.
Q: Shouldn't Sydney Pollack be in every movie?
A: Yes, he should. He instantly raises the credibility of anything he's in. Here, as Clayton's boss, he doesn't even DO all that much, when you reflect on it, but move the plot forward a few times and generally be authoritative. But, oh, how he sells that authority. Very few movies could not use a touch of that. Maybe Spider-Man 4 could be redeemed by Sydney Pollack as some kind of crime boss.