Thursday 13 November 2008

Michael Clayton

A film that boasts input from the likes of that late, lamented pair Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella and a cast led by George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson has a great deal going for it. So it’s no surprise that Michael Clayton won a great deal of acclaim when it reached the screen last year.

It’s billed as a thriller, a story about a corporate law firm’s ‘fixer’, played very effectively by Clooney, who is involved on the fringe of a law suit that in its longevity rivals Jarndyce versus Jarndyce – a mega-conglomerate called U-North is being sued by a group of plaintiffs whose health has been damaged by its products. A colleague (Tom Wilkinson, whom I have long admired) has a mental collapse after failing to take his medication: he suffers from bipolar disorder. But it also becomes clear that the sick, troubled man has stumbled upon a secret that could destroy U-North, and, amongst others, their brittle in-house counsel (Swinton, serving up another good performance.) Pollack, as so often, makes a relatively brief, but telling appearance as another of Clooney’s associates. The production values are consistently high.

So, with all these great ingredients, why didn’t I enjoy the film more? It has something to do with the structure of the story-line, which I thought bordered on the inept. For reasons unclear, much of the tale is told by way of flashback – a tricky device that needs more justification than we have here. It’s not an excessively long film, but still the action often drags.

Much of the problem lies with the basic story – strip away the window-dressing, and it’s neither original nor compelling. The bad guys go to so much trouble to eliminate Clooney and Wilkinson that I couldn’t fathom why they allowed the catastrophic memo that seals their fate to see the light of day. Things improve towards the end, but overall I was disappointed. It’s a thriller that seldom thrills. Far better to describe it as a character-based drama, with some very good acting.

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