George Clooney is Kentucky’s answer to Cary Grant.
A George Clooney film is an exercise in style. It
may be pungent style as in Good Night and Good Luck,
splashy style as in Ocean’s Pick-a-Number, or lame
style as in The Good German. But it is style.
Clooney’s latest venture into panache is thriller
style in Michael Clayton.
Clooney, in the title role,
glides through his performance as a “fixer” at a large
law firm in Manhattan, who cleans up the messes of
Michael gets involved in attempting to fix a
situation caused when a senior litigating partner goes
berzerk and threatens a settlement.
Arthur Edens, the addled lawyer, has a breakdown in
Milwaukee, and Michael rushes there to “fix” matters.
But the lawyer won’t be fixed; he has a tsunami of
conscience and prattles wildly that the company they
are representing has done horrible things.
Michael is drawn into the intrigue.
Clooney does silence well, and it is a good thing,
because the dialogue that writer-director Tony Gilroy
gives him is nondescript.
Michael has a back story that doesn’t quite work —
something about a restaurant that failed, a reprobate
brother, a precocious son who says things such as
“alliance” that small boys wouldn’t say, and some
gambling involvement. It is all very circuitous.
Clooney has several scenes without words — walking
up a hill to stand before horses (twice), a walk on
the sidewalk, a ride in a cab. Walk, George, walk.
Ride, George, ride.
I suppose that a dull back story is better than no
back story. The actress who is badly hampered by the
lack of back story is Tilda Swinton, who plays Karen
Crowder, a corporate lawyer. It is a one-dimensional
We realize Karen is dedicated to her job and
success. She spends a lot of time standing before a
mirror practicing what she is going to say in later
Preen, Tilda, preen. Run, Tilda, — oh, who cares?
The big confrontation at the end between Michael
and Karen is one of the most anti-climactic scenes of
the year. It’s been done before, and before, and
Michael Mann’s The Insider, with Russell Crowe, is
the gold standard for this kind of movie. Michael
Clayton is tin — shiny and thin.
Tony Gilroy is a first-time director. His talent is
adapting other writers’ work for the screen. He wrote
the scripts for Robert LUdlum’s Bourne novels.
On his own, directing and writing, Gilroy stalls.
He tries to add meaning by jumps in time. It works
better for tv’s Damages, but it often is an inchoate
technigue. It is in Michael Clayton.
Gilroy’s screenplay has unseemly calculation in the
forgettable dialogue. There’s even a shameless
reference to Larry King in the conversation at a card
game, that cries, “We mentioned you, now flack for us,
The thing that saves the film from Clooney’s and
Swinton’s blankness is the raging performance by Tom
Wilkinson as the often maniacal lawyer. Clooney seems
like a dip of vanilla ice cream, and Swinton is
sherbet, next to Wilkinson’s volcanic chocolate cake.
Sydney Pollack is a director who has acted in
movies — e.g., Tootsie and Eyes Wide Shut. He
business-oriented characters, and he is effective as
always as Michael Clayton’s boss.
Most of the previews shown before Michael Clayton
are aimed at the chick flick audience. Studios
obviously think women are present at Michael Clayton
to see George Clooney being cool and comely.
A clever technique keeps most of the audience in
their seats for much of the credits. They expect more.
They do get more — more George. We love you, George.
George Clooney is vanilla ice cream that never