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Michael Clayton – Movie Review

March 2, 2008
Michael Clayton was released here 5 months late here, and it’s not much of a consolation to know that the movie was released in Germany around the same time, and that it’s yet to released in Japan. I am sure release dates have everything to do with commercial considerations, but well, thrillers are my favourite genre, and I had been looking forward to this movie for some time…specially after I heard that it had been nominated for an Oscar for the best motion picture.

The movie didn’t get the Oscar, and I am not surprised. It certainly doesn’t deserve an Oscar. It’s a good movie though, one of the better thrillers I’ve seen. Maybe I was disappointed because I was expecting too much. Not just me I think, from the reaction of the crowd. The Oscar nomination generated hype because the movie hall was half full even though the cricket match was on (we won 🙂 ).

The movie is cleverly crafted, the suspense rising at every step and culminating in a superb climax. The way the director, Tony Gilroy, went about it, slow to start, almost sleepy (pace) and then slowly building up to an unbearable pitch was brilliant! And the way it was shot, it was realistic and underplayed. The movie grips you…the realism of the settings grip you. The muted but intense dialogues grip you…giving the feeling that this is what actually happened, that it’s a re-make of a real-life story…
No reason to be disappointed, right?

Well, the movie is a trifle too stylistic for my liking. At the start, the director makes sure that viewers don’t know what’s happening! For example at the start of the film you have a crazy voice recounting his bizarre thoughts and we don’t know who it is or what it’s go to do with the movie, not for some time. We also see a woman almost having a nervous break-down in the ladies room and we have no idea who she is and what the matter is. No explanations are given, instead we are taken to be introduced to Michael Clayton (George Clooney). We are told that he is a lawyer in debt…not much else. This type of editing, a deliberate ploy to create suspense isn’t the kind of suspense I like. It isn’t the kind of suspense that makes one feel…oh my god, what’s going to happen next…it’s the kind of bewilderment that makes one feel, what the heck is going on? However, half an hour or so into the movie things settle down.

I didn’t like the way the flashback is done though. When we are brought back to the present some shots are repeated, as if to tell the viewer look we are back to the present. I didn’t think there was a need for this…

I loved the story – about a huge agro-chemical company (UNorth) which poisons the soil…and ordinary citizens litigate against it. It’s on the lines of Erin Brocovich. I mentioned EB but Michael Clayton is vastly different. Not just the treatment but the story too.

George Clooney as Michael was only a little above average in his acting. He plays the role of a ‘fixer’ (does the dirty work) in the law firm handling the suit on behalf of UNorth. What I liked about the characterization of Michael (the story revolves around him) is the way the stress in his personal life is shown affecting his decisions in his professional life…he is shown to be all too human. The movie opens at a time when Michael (chest deep in personal problems) has to make that crucial decision which will decide whether he is a cad or a hero.

Arthur Eden (played Tom Wilkinson), the law firm’s leading attorney, plays a critical role in the film and he does a great job. However, the performance that gets imprinted on one’s mind is that of the supporting actress, Tilda Swinton, who plays Karen Crowder, the just-been-promoted head of the company UNorth. She won the Oscar for her role. She is absolutely brilliant! She plays an ambitious woman who is nervous about fitting into her new role and as a result makes serious mistakes…she looks and plays her part to perfection.

The movie was rated R in the west (explicit language) and in India it’s got an ‘A’ certificate, presumably for the same reason. There was no sex in the movie and hardly any violence – unless a bomb going off and man being injected with something when he is unconscious constitutes violence. And no there is no profanity either…it’s just that a few times in the movie explicit words are used to describe something that actually happened.

It was irritating to hear Arthur spouting this line: I’m Shiva the God of Death. Shiva isn’t the God of Death. Yama is. Shiva happens to be the Destroyer. True, Shiva is said to be “responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of the shedding of old habits” but he is not known as the God of Death amongst Hindus. You can read more about Shiva here. I wonder why Hollywood movie producers who spend so much money on technology and the like can’t do the easiest of research! It takes just two minutes or less to find this out.

Overall this 2-hour movie was worth a watch. And no, not because of George Clooney (I could see his make-up 😐 )

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2008 1:39 am


    This is a nice review ! The movie itself seems good to me but I don’t know if I will watch it . . . 😐

  2. Jackie permalink
    March 3, 2008 5:48 am

    Ms. Nita, we saw the movie last night and I have to agree with your assessment. Good, not great. Perhaps overhyped. Still, it was a good story….reminded us of Norma Rae and Erin Brockovich.

  3. March 3, 2008 7:40 am

    Thanks Jackie. I haven’t seen Norma Rae but I have seen EB and I loved it!

    Thanks Raj. However if it is because of the interest in the environment, let me tell you that it’s less about that and more about the main character, unlike EB. Sure, it does give an idea as to what lengths big corporations go, to keep their reputations (and their profits) intact

  4. March 3, 2008 11:43 pm

    I saw this movie recently. Brilliant work and I love when movie treat audience an intelligent person.

  5. October 3, 2008 10:36 pm

    I am just about to watch the movie. Can i ask you one thing?? Why there is 27 dresses poster for this movie??

    oops! thanks for pointing that out! It’s been deleted now! – nita.

  6. October 4, 2008 12:35 am

    Nita, I liked this movie a lot – very low-key and subtle performances. Supposedly, it is loosely based on Monsanto’s strong-arm tactics to intimidate farmers in the US and elsewhere.

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