This movie opened a long time ago to excellent reviews. I have very little to add, except to say that the reviews are right. What makes the movie so smart is that it appeals to mainstream audiences with a solid John Grisham-esque story and appeals to the move-savvy viewer with excellent direction very much in the Stephen Soderbergh vein. The character’s are basically recognizable lawyer fiction types, but they are all at a much more human level of ambiguity, which is excellent. The “villain” in particular stands out because it would have been so easy to make her into a monster who has simply lost touch with humanity. It even would have worked with the theme. But as someone who is losing her way in the film we are watching, she is so much more compelling.
I wonder what I would say to someone who complained Michael Clayton was derivative of Soderbergh, who is an executive producer. It does feel a bit like a house-style: washed out colours; tense but subtle, smart music; hearing the audio of an earlier or later scene superimposed on a present one; deeply ambiguous moments, like Michael with the horses, or the closing credit sequence. But it a style I very much want more of, so I certainly will not fault the film for a lack of originality. Michael Clayton is the directorial debut of Bourne screenwriter Tony Gilroy – the guy is absolutely solid on every point. This is my favourite kind of film – one with such technical mastery that it makes something fundamentally dumb transcendent. It is not unlike Lost or Angel, on this point.
[I do not know if people are frustrated with these short, somewhat haphazard posts. It is a mode I want to try more, but it will not take over this blog for too long at a time. I like to put something small up, especially on a day with a guest blogger because I do not want to steal the spotlight from our new writers with a huge essay, but I am also trying not to disappear under a hail of guest-bloggers either.]