We had a free half-day on Friday, which I was terribly happy to receive, for the Thanksgiving holiday this weekend. I went out for lunch by myself, finished reading PS, I Love You (#65), bought some books for my Around the World in 52 Countries challenge, and then went to go see Michael Clayton. Really I just needed some time to myself, to wander around regardless of how my tragic hip hurt, and think. Quietly.
I suppose spending two hours in a movie theatre isn't necessarily quiet time, but for me it's a place to sit alone with no one talking to me, or talking at me, where I can't punch the keys of the blackberry and sort of get lost. So, yes, it's a good place for me after what felt like weeks of non-stop activity. And while the film drags a bit in its middle section, I have to say that the more I think about it, the more I have to say that it's one of the best pictures I've seen this year.
Michael Clayton, played to precision by George Clooney, pulls himself out of a high stakes back door poker game to answer his particular call of duty. The Willy Loman of lawyers, and I felt Arthur Miller's influence is all over this picture, he's a fixer, the guy the other lawyers in the New York mega-firm call when there's a problem with one of their clients. From shoplifting wives to hit and run accidents, he's got a reputation for being a lawyer among cops and a cop among lawyers, which puts him in a very complicated position when it comes to cleaning up a particular mess his associate, a brilliant but manic corporate lawyer named Arthur Edens creates.
See, Clayton's cleaned up the mess left behind by Edens before, and his particular brand of mental illness, while it leads to utterly brilliant lawyering, has also caused him to become completely unhinged when dealing with the UNorth class action suit. They're defending the company against claims their fertilizer, growth products, and/or genetically modified seeds, are killing farmers and poisoning their land. We see very little of the case itself but more the people around the case, like Tilda Swinton's Karen Crowder, lead counsel for UNorth, who manically plots to save the company and herself from harm.
What this film is not is a terribly rehashing of bland early 90s legal thrillers of the John Grisham variety where big, bad business comes down hard on the good guy. The lines are blurred, the action more subtle, and the end result less Hollywood. In the middle of getting to the bottom of Edens breakdown (or breakout he would say), Clayton needs to deal with many issues in his personal life, the failure of his restaurant, his gambling, a tenuous relationship with his son, and the urge to throw away his career because he's simply tired of being on the cleanup crew.
The struggle between the responsibility of work and the responsibility in a larger, more global sense is at play, as it is in many of the films Clooney makes these days. Right and wrong are blurry but not blurred and as the picture moves towards its conclusion, there's a sense that you've picked up in the middle of the story. There's the feeling that Clayton will continue for years to come in this role that he's created for himself, driving a company car, cleaning up the messes of the rich and richer, and always hoping that doing the right thing means more than collecting a paycheque or an exorbitant bonus. Personally, the end of this film, which I won't go into for fear of spoiling it, really made the movie for me. It's a film that made me think a lot of about the state of men being 'men' and what it means to be successful in this past postmodern world. Regardless, it's definitely a must see this season.