‘Michael Clayton’ Well Done but Nothing New

December 21, 2007

I asked my friend if he wanted to go with me to see “Michael Clayton.” His response: “Why do you need to see him?”

Named for its protagonist, a “fixer” in a New York law firm, “Michael Clayton” the movie is the latest legal-suspense thriller to be offered up by Hollywood. With a superb cast headed by George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, the only reason a film like this would fail would be because of those behind the camera. Thankfully, that is not the case. Tony Gilroy, who makes his directing debut with this film, has crafted a textbook example of how to successfully write and direct a suspense thriller not for dummies.

The movie is well executed, though the pace is a bit slow and the plot somewhat predictable. In a recent surge of end-of-movie twists and turns that we’ve seen come out of Hollywood, “Michael Clayton” makes no effort to tease you along toward a mindblowing twist at the end, yet it manages to keep you interested the whole way through. And the predictability seems not to be a weakness but rather a strength that helps to establish tension and a solid storyline.

Despite all this, the film doesn’t have the entertainment value you might expect. With the possible exception of legal thriller addicts and John Grisham buffs, this movie can definitely wait for home viewing. The formula used here offers nothing new for those familiar with the genre.

The performances are excellent, however. The presence of a large number of unknown actors in supporting roles does not go unnoticed; they perform well in the backdrop of the story and their unknown faces add a sense of genuineness to the film. With this and other movies such as the “Ocean’s Eleven” series, Clooney and fast friend Steven Soderbergh – executive producers of “Michael Clayton,” along with James Holt and Anthony Minghella – seem big on seeking out new talent to complement already known names.

Though new to directing, Gilroy – who has some excellent writing credits under his belt,  including the Bourne series – definitely has aneye for stimulating shot compositions. I will be first in line when his next film, “Duplicity,” starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts, comes out, with what I’m sure will be a more mature and experienced approach.

 

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