Film Review – Michael Clayton (2007)

29 08 2008

Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney in the eponymous role, follows a ‘Fixer’ at a high profile New York law firm. To prevent me from spoiling any of the plot here is the trailer, a higher quality version is available at Apple Movie Trailers.

At the 2008 Academy Awards, ‘Michael Clayton’ was nominated for no less than 7 awards, one of which was won. These were:

Nominated

 

  • Best Achievement in Directing – Tony Gilroy
  • Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score – James Newton Howard
  • Best Motion Picture Of The Year – Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent
  • Best Performance by an Actor In A Leading Role – George Clooney
  • Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role – Tom Wilkinson
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen – Tony Gilroy

Won

 

  • Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role – Tilda Swinton

 

Personally I like to watch a film before the Oscar ceremony has taken place. I prefer it even more if I can watch a film before the awards shortlist is released. But that is a rare occurrence, especially when living in the UK with the release dates of many nominated films not coming around until after the event. The reason I prefer to watch a film under these circumstances is so that I am not made to feel that the film in question is better than it actually is. Thankfully, with 6 months or so since the Academy Awards, I had forgotten all about the particular nominations, except for that of Tilda Swinton’s win, which I did recall. It was only when looking up the details on the film after viewing that I was reminded of its strong presence.

So, in retrospect, did the film deserve so many nominations? I may be tempted to cause some sort of a controversy by saying no, and that the system in place for the Oscars is less than desirable. However I am not going to say such a thing for Michael Clayton, I believe it deserves all the praise that can be bestowed upon it. 2008 just happened to be a very strong awards season with many fine films and performances on show, and if Michael Clayton was up against other films in another season, it may have won a lot more than its 1 of 7. When up against ‘No Country For Old Men’, and ‘There Will Be Blood’, it is going to be difficult to gain anything over them.

The stand out performance, in my opinion, came from the great Tom Wilkinson as Arthur Edens, a top figure in a law firm who has an ‘episode’ and loses his professional judgement in a class action suit. The film opens with a monologue performed by Wilkinson, initially over blank screen, and then with a sequence of images around the law firm’s building. His performance in these few minutes alone are remarkably captivating and powerful, setting up a great benchmark for the remainder of his performance.

I can’t think of any film I have seen with George Clooney in the cast, where I have seen him give a poor performance. I am a fan of his acting work, as well as his directorial efforts. Here, he does not disappoint. With every line, the audiences attention on his voice does not waver, as he delivers with conviction and clarity.

Again, Tilda Swinton gives a superb performance and thoroughly deserved her win at the Academy Awards. Playing the face of the corporation to which the class action suit is against. Playing this role, Swinton effectively portrays all of the nuances of moral conflict clearly, yet subtly in her performance.

Not forgetting the late great Sydney Pollack, who also acted as Executive Producer on the project. Pollock plays the head of the law firm, and Clayton’s superior, and friend. Acting in his penultimate role before his death, he gave a performance as natural as ever, with another great entry on his long and prolific career.

This was the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy, who is better known as a screenwriter, with great screenplays such as ‘The Bourne Identity’, ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ to his credit. And what a debut it was. It is not often that a screenwriter can so successfully transition over to directing, but Gilroy achieves this, as though he should have been directing all along. I am eagerly awaiting Gilroy’s next directing piece ‘Duplicity’ which is currently scheduled for release in March 2009.

As I’m sure you can guess, I quite liked this film. The pacing and suspense of the film are well executed with a great script and so many great performances. Though I must say this film requires concentration, if you drift off it is possible that you may miss some key points that tie the film together. In fact I feel I may have done so myself and will likely re-watch sometime in the near future to make sure I picked up everything there is to offer.

Cheers

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