As part of my continuing mission to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture, I recently rewatched the 2007 Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton.
The title character (as played by George Clooney) is a sleazy attorney who “fixes” problems for one of the biggest law firms in New York. When Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), one of the firm’s partners and Michael’s mentor, has a nervous breakdown while at a deposition in Minnesota and ends up in jail, Michael is sent to retrieve him. Michael soon discovers that Arthur’s mental collapse was due to a class action law suit involving an evil, faceless corporation. Before he reveals any more details, Arthur flees and is subsequently murdered by two assassins. With the police calling Arthur’s death a suicide, Michael soon finds himself being pursued by the same assassins.
Though I’ve owned the DVD for a couple of years, this was only the second time that I had ever actually sat down and watched this film. (The first time was during its initial theatrical run.) There have been many insomnia-filled nights when I’ve gone to my DVD collection, fully intending on grabbing Michael Clayton and allowing the images of an unshaven George Clooney to flicker in my dark bedroom. However, every time, I always ended up suddenly remembering a film that I wanted to see more.
That’s the thing with Michael Clayton. Having seen the film a second time, I can say that it remains a well-made film and an entertaining film and I can also say that I noticed a whole lot of small details that I had either missed the first time or had subsequently forgotten about. Like a lot of best picture nominees, Michael Clayton is a good film. It’s just not a very memorable one. Seriously, is anyone surprised when business executives and attorneys turn out to be the villains in these type of films? And if you couldn’t guess that Tom Wilkinson was going to end up dead from the minute he turned up on-screen then you may need to surrender your filmgoer card.
That said, Michael Clayton remains a fun little film and I enjoyed watching it even if it was predictable. In fact, I may have enjoyed it even more the second time around because I currently work for an attorney so I was able to spend the whole movie playing the “What would my boss do in this situation?” game. (Hopefully, the first thing he would do would be to send his loyal and capable red-headed assistant on a nice, long, all-expense paid vacation Italy.) Beyond that, Tony Gilroy’s direction is efficient and fast-paced, George Clooney gives one of his less-smug performances (It can be argued that Michael Clayton — along with Up In The Air and The Descendants — forms Clooney’s Mediocre White Man Trilogy) and Tilda Swinton deserved the Oscar she won for playing a villain who isn’t so much evil as just really insecure. However, for me, the best performances in this film come from two unheralded actors by the name of Robert Prescott and Terry Serpico. Playing the two assassins who pursue both Wilkinson and Clooney, Serpico and Prescott play their roles with a nonchalant sort of respectability that is both compelling and genuinely frightening. During those brief moments when Serpico and Prescott are on-screen, Michael Clayton actually becomes the film that it is obviously trying so hard to be.