Hollywood Hues
Compact canvas

A clever narrative and imaginative screenplay make Michael Clayton a must watch,
says Ervell E. Menezes

George Clooney in a pensive mood in Michael Clayton
George Clooney in a pensive mood in Michael Clayton

THE ruthless, dog-eat-dog corporate/legal world has come up for censure before in films like Erin Brockovich and And Justice for All to mention just two and in Michael Clayton we have the latest effort which is centred on an in-house fixer of one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. But this fixer Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has run into a mid-life crisis, a failed marriage and mounting debt among others. But he takes up the assignment at the behest of Marty Back (Sydney Pollack), a co-founder of the law firm engaged to investigate one of its cases.

Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who is the one under investigation, is also a veteran in the same law firm but his recent behaviour indicates a change of heart. Is he disillusioned by the firm’s unscrupulous modus operandi or is the world finally becoming too much with him — after all, everyone has a breaking point. The third angle of the triangle is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), an ambitious, cold as stone professional with only one goal in mind — to reach the top of the ladder. She is the boss-man.

It is a clever narrative, somewhat meandering with a number of detours, but its two-hour duration is anything but dull, thanks to an imaginative screenplay by director Tony Gilroy who has the subject well in his grasp. In fact the journey is better than the destination, as novelist Paulo Coelho would say, and it enhanced by asides which are, at times, left unsaid or hanging. This leads to grey areas but it also provides suspense a la Hitchcock because of John Gilroy’s slick cutting and editing.

It is a compact canvas and the three main characters are admirably fleshed out with the viewer getting a ringside view of the chequered world we live in. Michael’s son Henry (Arthur Williams), an avid reader, provides an interesting cameo and so are some of Clayton’s siblings who flit in and out of the frame. Then there’s a girl Edens seems to be involved with. And other cameos to lessen any traces of tedium. As for Karen, she seems sexless, only rehearsing her speeches and pulling the strings.

Moving along two or three fronts helps the attention span and Robert Elsevit’s camerawork is just enchanting. With George Clooney in almost every frame it could be jarring but the excellent actor is able to subvert this by underplaying the part. But he is matched frame by frame by Tilda Swinton who is brilliant in a role reminiscent of Faye Dunaway in Network. She has fast developed into a force to reckon with and not surprisingly won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for he role in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth — the Golden Age. Sydney Pollack, who plays brief roles in the films he directs, shows that he is also a very capable performer with old burly Tom Wilkinson his usual competent self. The only weak point, if you must look for one, is the climax which is typically Hollywood, rather convenient, but Hollywood buffs will lap it up. But as I’ve said before the travelling is better than the arriving and Michael Clayton is highly recommended for lovers of serious cinema.