Monday, October 29, 2007

Michael Clayton


I caught a late showing of this movie at the Alamo Drafthouse yesterday and I must say, I was very impressed. George Clooney plays the eponymous character, a "fixer" or "janitor" who cleans up messes for a high-powered New York law firm. There are a couple of visually stunning scenes in this movie which do an excellent job of emphasizing Clayton's journey from Faustian tragic hero to his rebirth as the bringer of justice. In one critical scene Clayton dons the mask of Justice, with a check for $80,000 in one hand and the damning evidence for the case against negligent bio-corp U-North. This scene has a quiet power as you can see the wheels turning in Clayton's head.

Clooney is perfect in this role, playing it cool and communicating more with his grim countenance and hundred-mile stare than his trademark wry delivery. In true tragic form, Clayton takes the money; the temptation of relief from a failed business endeavor that has haunted him throughout the film proves to be too great. But ultimately this film is about those exceptional moments when an individual is presented, very clearly, with a choice of doing what is right or "making the problem go away". Clayton having made a career out of doing the latter begins to have doubts when his friend's mental breakdown reveals a more sinister effluence than he has ever had to "fix" before.

By far the most striking scene of the movie is Clayton's rebirth as a bringer of justice. An early morning stop at a remote upstate hilltop quickly transforms from a rare moment of somber reflection into a sudden and violent epiphany that his old life is, quite literally, destroyed. There is a beautiful finality when he realizes what is happening and throws his wallet, cell phone and watch - all tainted symbols of his complicity - into the burning wreckage of his old life and runs into the wilderness of danger and possibility that lies beyond.

The name of Shiva the Hindu god of destruction is evoked twice in this movie and appropriately so, for theme of destruction runs through it on multiple levels. There destruction of the self as Clayton's old life is sacrificed so that he can topple the corrupt hegemony that U-North represents. This is powerful stuff, but it should not come as too much of a surprise as the production list reads like an auteur who's who: Steven Soderbergh, Anthony Minghella and Syndney Pollack (who also takes a turn in front of the camera) were all involved in brining this movie into being. This movie is tightly wound, with understated performances and excellent pacing. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

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