Image courtesy of impawards.com
Tom Wilkinson……….Arthur Edens
Michael O’Keefe……….Barry Grissom
Sydney Pollack……….Marty Bach
Tilda Swinton……….Karen Crowder
George Clooney……….Michael Clayton
Denis O’Hare……….Mr. Greer
Julie White……….Mrs. Greer
Austin Williams……….Henry Clayton
Ken Howard……….Don Jefferies
David Lansbury……….Timmy Clayton
Suspense is created through confusion, uncertainty, and anticipation; but these three elements combined to not always guarantee a thrilling movie. Observe Michael Clayton, George Clooney’s intriguingly promoted new potboiler about a corporate fixer (the job description lies somewhere between courtroom lawyer and police officer) trying to right some wrong in this crazy world. The preview makes the film look enticing, but the actual full-length film is possibly more confusing than its fast-paced, jarringly edited counterpart. The problem that Michael Clayton ails from is not all that uncommon in modern thrillers, but it is somewhat annoying to hear people singing the praises of such a convoluted movie.
What the audience is able to decipher from the plot is that maniac-depressive uber-lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has been dealing with a case against the evil corporation, U North, for the past six years. The slow deterioration of his mind and soul becomes apparent when he breaks down, strips naked, and proclaims his love for one of the young plaintiffs of the case. Enter Michael Clayton (George Clooney) to pick up the pieces. The remainder of the movie is spent driving home what had to that point become inherently obvious: Edens is out of his mind, but brilliant; Clayton is great at what he does, but unsatisfied; and U North is a malicious and corrupt agricultural company whose behind the scenes agenda does not jive with its public image.
If there is more to tell than that it is embedded deep within the onscreen happenings, or it is so plainly obvious that what is actually happening was announced early and quickly forgotten. It is hard to say since writer/director Tony Gilroy throws so much useless, purposefully deceptive material into the plot. The periphery stories in the film would be welcome if Gilroy allowed any time for viewers to decode what is going on with the primary plot. Solving a movie’s puzzle is often rewarding, but sometimes a film asks for his audience to think too hard. In Michael Clayton‘s defense, I was a little slow on the uptake as I was watching; perhaps other viewers will not share in my struggle to digest so much information.
Personal confessions aside, the movie is still convoluted and the non-linear presentation of information makes one long for the simplicity of a David Lynch production. Honestly, just because a film is not understood by the masses, it does not make it overly cerebral or artistic. Sometimes a confusing movie is that way because it is poorly made. It is said that all great art is misunderstood, but the same is true of mediocre art.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):