17 February 2008

MICHAEL CLAYTON - A brilliant 'debut' from Tony Gilroy & George Clooney Does it Again

George Clooney's film career continues to go from strength to strength, and as Michael Clayton, Clooney delivers arguably his greatest performance to date. When you look back at the films which Clooney was making at the start of his film career, it is hard to believe how far he has come as an actor, distancing himself away from mainstream Hollywood actions films like Batman & Robin and The Peacemaker, and even shunning the postmodern irony of the Tarantino-Rodriquez Vampire collaboration, From Dusk till Dawn. The politicisation of George Clooney as an actor and director really started with his longtime and continuing assocation with Steven Soderbergh whom he met when they worked together on the noirish and superlative 'Out of Sight'. After this artistic collaboration, Clooney entered a much more mature and serious phase in his career, carefully selecting film projects according to his political position as a self declared liberal humanist. Post 'Out of Sight', Clooney's filmography is deeply impressive with films such as Solaris, Oceans 11, Syriana, Good Night & Good Luck, The Good German confirming his credibility as not only an actor but also as a competent director who is not afraid of taking on political and social issues which are overlooked and dismissed by commercial Hollywood film making. Michael Clayton is a throwback to the New Hollywood cinema of the 1970s which had no qualms about turning classical narrative film making into intense character study's about marginal characters; loners, misfits, outcasts. Having made somewhat of a notable reputation as a gifted and insightful scriptwriter, Tony Gilroy's directorial debut is an assured and understated examination of corporate culture and greed affects actions of individuals within a society that no longer wishes to act as a watchdog for corruption and the misuse of power. Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a former district attorney turned 'fixer' who works for a major American law firm, helping their clients get out of problematic situations. When Michael Clayton comes across the lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) who has decided to put together a case against the client he is supposed to be defending, he starts to question his own moral and ethical standing. The client Edens is defending is a powerful agricultural corporation which goes by the name of U-North but he discovers that the corporation knowingly put at risk the lives of thousands of people and was also directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds. Michael Clayton works effectively as a taut political thriller and it takes on one of the least audience friendly of themes, that of corporate corruption, and translates it magnificently for a mainstream audience. The film has done respectable business considering it was given a limited release and that it ran a low key marketing campaign, perhaps because studios find it somewhat problematic to sell things like politics, corruption and character. It is very easy to fall into the trap of talking down to your audience especially when you take on the issue of corporations but Gilroy does extremely well to give us some very flawed but compelling characters to get out heads round. For me, this film really triumphs in the last ten minutes, reaching a fitting conclusion that provides audiences with an enormous level of satisfaction. Gilroy suggests that redemption and moral integrity are certainties in a life which is plagued with superficial distractions. The film finishes with the camera fixed on the face of George Clooney as he takes a cab ride, finally before we fade to black, a smile pops up on his face; a reflection of having made the right choice. It is also happens to sums up the brilliance of Clooney's controlled performance. Many critics have likened 2007 to 1999 in terms of the quality of output produced by Hollywood, and Michael Clayton definitely adds yet further proof of such a claim.

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