Ostensibly a run-of-the-mill corporate thriller, with the morality of beat-down corporate lackeys compromised by fealty to the faceless shareholder and terrible things done to the environment in the name of profit, Michael Clayton is lifted above the other movies in this sub-genre not only by the excellent performances of everyone involved (especially Gorgeous George, Tilda Swinton, the much-missed Sydney Pollack, and Tom Wilkinson), but by Tony Gilroy’s beautiful script, concentrating more on the motivations and fears of the players in the game than on the game itself. Even if it’s a story we’ve seen told before, Gilroy’s attention to character detail transforms the movie into something more than its parts, allowing us to use our knowledge of the sub-genre’s ins and outs as a subconscious baseline while layers of emotional meaning are piled on top. Plus, we get a great WTF expression from Gorgeous George Clooney, and as a result wins a Wahlberg Award for Best Response To Having Your Car Blown Up By Inept Assassins Hired By An Academy Award Winning Superlady Who Should Win Awards On A Regular Basis.
I loved how Clayton is kicked about through the whole movie to such an extent that at the end he does the right thing not because it is the right thing to do, but because he’s so pissed off he wants to make someone pay, and the fact that the person who ordered the hit on him is also a total craven weakling he can push around makes it even better (at least, that’s one reading of his motivation; the film invites multiple different interpretations). There’s barely any nobility in the entire movie (for example, Tom Wilkinson’s character only does the right thing because he’s off his meds and fancies the girl who was in Studio 60), and yet it’s still satisfying at the end when he gets his (wo)man. The final shot, of Clayton in the back of a cab, just pondering his life, is one of my favourite final shots of recent years.
Man, when I saw this I just kinda liked it, but the more I think about it, the more I love it. Canyon is cleverly using my fascination with Tony Gilroy to lobby for a Chez Canyonneck screening of The Cutting Edge, a film I’ve avoided not because it’s about a subject I have no interest in, but because it was directed by Starsky, and the only other film by him I’ve seen (The Running Man, obviously) didn’t exactly light my fire. Plus, Moira Kelly is lemon juice on a split lip. Figuratively speaking.
Ironically, Gilroy’s next directorial venture, Duplicity, stars Julia Roberts, who makes Canyon’s brain pulsate with intense dislike, so there’s a good chance she will duplicate my Gilroy-project apathy. It sounds mighty good to me, though, featuring as it does Hunky Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti (a Shoot ‘Em Up reunion!), Billy Bob Thornton, and Tom Wilkinson, now happily back in our good graces following his terrific performance in HBO’s Recount, which made us momentarily forget the debacle that was his disastrous appearance in Cassandra’s Dream. Sadly, no role for Tilda, though. The Tilda Swinton Fanclub is very angry about this turn of events!