Praised by critics and garnering seven Academy Award nominations, Michael Clayton is one of this year’s biggest contender at the Oscar’s. Not only does it have nominations in most of the major categories (including best picture, director and writer), but it also has the superb cast and acting talent behind it that made the nominations so warranted in the first place. With all of the Oscar buzz present, be careful in how much of it you let sink in before watching the film—not surprisingly, the praise may not match the film.
George Clooney continues his successful streak of superb films by starring in Michael Clayton alongside Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson. With most of his life turning into a giant mess with an unsuccessful bar and a near hundred grand debt looming over his head, Clayton’s (Clooney) life only gets worse when his mentor and friend Arthur Edens (Wilkinson) begins to turn his back on a contract the law firm has been working on for years. After meeting the people that he was trying to discredit, Edens has a change of heart and attempts to change sides. With both sides scrambling to keep up with this change in play, Edens and Clayton are put in water much deeper than they ever could have dreamed.
I want to preface this entire review by saying that this is not a fast paced thriller, as many critics or the DVD cover would have you believe. It is, in fact, one of the slowest and increasingly dull films I’ve seen in months. I don’t want it to seem like I have an affinity for films with explosions and massive amounts of violence, as I’m an equal opportunity film watcher. If it’s good, I’m more than eager to watch it, as was the case with Michael Clayton—unfortunately the film was more than dragging on more than one occasion and that ultimately hurts your enjoyment of a film when you’re attempting to hold back yawns and casting glances at the DVD run time and questioning if it has really only been an hour.
Having said that, Michael Clayton is a magnificent movie at times and utterly dull in others. It’s easy to see how the actors in the film earned Oscar nominations, but I’m struggling to understand how best writing and best picture nominations were bestowed upon it. Sure, the film has writing that is leagues beyond what most of Hollywood trails out, but the fact of the matter is there were just so many dull scenes to get through. Only a few even stick out to me and this is coming from a two hour film that is supposedly one of 2007’s best.
Still, I can see what people enjoy in the film. When it picks up in the final twenty to thirty minutes of the film, it does become a tense thriller, but for the first hour and a half the viewer is left wondering where it is going exactly. I had no trouble following the events as they went along, but I failed to grasp what it was building up to. The turning of Wilkinson’s character wasn’t detailed well enough in the beginning to really give us an idea of why his going crazy mattered. We’re presented with the results before the tests are shown and we are unable to make any sense of it until the script plays catch up and tells us exactly what’s going on.
Perhaps I’m too simple to understand the script and truly appreciate its pacing, but the film just had serious momentum issues. Starting it out at the beginning and then throwing us back in time four days proved to have zero meaning, as the events in what we saw in the beginning aren’t even touched upon again until it repeats itself in the last half of the film. It seems as if it was shifted around completely to give us some kind of inkling that Clayton was deep into something. Why did he get out the car and look at horses on a hill? Then suddenly his car explodes? I became more frustrated than intrigued at that point. I love a good mystery and/or thriller, but the early portions of the film indicated that Michael Clayton was neither.
I’m writing this review after viewing the film only once. I fully realize that to truly appreciate a film you sometimes have to watch it more than that, but in Michael Clayton’s case I really don’t think there is anything to be gained from a repeat viewing. By the end of the film I was no longer confused by any of the events because they were fully explained. I had no lingering questions and everything was satisfactorily answered, so there’s no reason to watch it again, except to try and see just why critics and the Academy adores the films so much.
I realize I’ve come off as extremely hateful of the film, but I really didn’t hate it. I just, obviously, have severe issues with the pacing of the film. Unlike The Assassination of Jesse James, the payoff after the long setup in Michael Clayton just isn’t worth it. Clayton’s swagger and “You’re so screwed” attitude toward Karen Crowder (Swinton) in the last act of the film is exactly what it was building up to, only it seemed like something that would come out of Die Hard or something. Yes, I just compared this to a series about blowing stuff up, but the bugging, the confession and the “Surprise! I didn’t die in the car bomb” smirk plastered over Clayton’s face just screamed generic-action-movie-ending. It’s certainly enjoyable to watch, but Michael Clayton painted itself to be a film of a different breed with it’s ingenuity and insistence on taking it slow to warrant the outcome. It was a great outcome and without a doubt the best part of the film, but it just didn’t seem to live up to the standards it set for itself in the first two acts.
There I go again…I attempt to praise the film and I end up complaining about it again. Even the good things in the film seem to be overshadowed by the dull and trite, but, alas, I can’t seem to cultivate any words to say anything different about it. As I said before, Clooney, Wilkinson and Swinton’s performances are all rock solid in the film and worth every nomination they get…but the film has serious pacing issues that I just can’t overlook. If they had trimmed the fat and maybe dropped it to an hour and a half to speed up the pace a little bit, it might had more effect, but there was simply too much walking and talking and not enough things for the characters to do besides that to really make for a truly enjoyable film. Despite it’s length, however, I think it’s greatest flaw lies in that they don’t explain what the entire lawsuit and its history early enough in the film—by the time it’s completely divulged to us we are past the point of needing to know.
For all of its faults, there are some truly great sequences to be had in the film, however. The interactions Clayton has with his son, while seemingly out of the blue and very adult at times, are strong and the alley way conversation between Clayton and Edens was nothing short of amazing. Swinton’s performance throughout is tight and superbly executed and all of the supporting cast more than pulls their weight. Merritt Wever also pulls in a great roll as the innocent Anna Kaiserson, the girl who changed Edens mind about the case.
Michael Clayton is a good film and that is really the highest honor I can bestow upon it. To me, however, it is not worthy of near half of its Oscar nominations. I feel almost bad writing this review as it seems to go against what near ninety percent of critics thought of it.
Apparently I’m in the minority, but I really just don’t the film worth your time. Before I finished this review I went back a second time to watch it and make sure it wasn’t some fluke…but I really didn’t enjoy it anymore the second time. The pacing was a bit better now that I knew the events of everything, but it still didn’t feel quite right to me; besides, you shouldn’t have to watch a movie twice just to make sure you weren’t half asleep the first time. The time the film takes to set up is simply not worth the final outcome, even though it’s what we want…it’s not what the film needed to be ultimately satisfying. Rent It.
Arriving on widescreen and fullscreen DVD and Blu-Ray on February 19th (HD-DVD release will arrive on March 11th), Michael Clayton comes with a small selection of bonus features across all three types. For this review I’ll be covering the standard DVD release, which arrives in a standard amaray DVD case, no slipcover or inserts and static menus with music over the main menu only.
Continuing a strong line of recent Warner Home Video releases with excellent video quality, Michael Clayton is impressive from a technical standpoint. While there is an absurd about of grain in the film in particular sequences, it never seemed to be filled with compression of any sort, leaving the film with a very clean transfer. Daytime sequences looked wonderful and there wasn’t any video artifacting of any kind that was visible. Audio was mostly focused in the fronts for this 5.1 mix, although we had a bit of rear channel usage in a few sequences.
Moving onto the extras we have a full length commentary by writer/director Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy. The two are upbeat throughout and proclaim their love of their film and the final product. I almost feel bad trashing it so hard up in the film review, but that’s just how I feel. While the commentary is lighthearted for the most part, it does seem to just be a lot of comments about how great Clooney is, how cold it was while filming and how hard certain shots were to film. There isn’t too much of interest here, but they do mention a few neat tidbits, such as what Clooney was thinking in the final credits roll and some inconsistencies between sequences.
Finally we have a selection of deleted scenes (yup, I guess they did edit this film). There are three in all and, admittedly, they’re rather heavy things to have cut out. In particular a sequence with Clayton and his girlfriend (I profess I didn’t know he had one—the commentary on these deleted scenes say she was in the film at some point though…could’ve fooled me) was cut, one with the bomb makers explaining why their work looked so ugly and another with Clayton meeting with a contact. Overall the scenes actually would’ve helped explain away some of the confusion people have, but they were definitely cut for time. As mentioned, commentary by the Gilroy’s on the deleted scenes is included as well.
Overall a decent release effort for a film I (obviously) have no great love for. I hope it finds an audience, because I’m obviously not it. Perhaps I just expected too much from the movie, as even after two viewings and a listen to the commentary I still couldn’t find the appeal that everyone else seems to see in it. Rent it.
Michael Clayton arrives on wide and fullscreen DVD Blu-Ray on February 19th and on HD-DVD on March 11th.