Michael Clayton - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We watched a bit of PAULINE A LA PLAGE last night. What Lisa remembered as sophisticated and exotic just seemed terribly dull now that we actually know French. Some movies don't hold up very well. It felt very flat and talky and desperately short on plot.

I finally got around to throwing my Zip disc of MICHAEL CLAYTON into the DVD drive. That was a pleasant surprise. It is really a superb study of a fixer in a fix. It takes a while to figure out exactly what it's about, but the characters are so well drawn and real that I didn't mind. Really keen writing and direction by Tony Gilroy. The desperately self-justifying hit-and-run client in the beginning is superb; so is the scene where one character orders a hit without ever saying so in so many words. ("And... the other way?" "The other way is the other way." Nice.)

I thought it was neat how we really don't know which way the movie is going to end until it ends. I could think of several dramatically satisfactory endings, and the movie hadn't tipped its hand tonally. It could have convincingly gone at least four ways: tragic downbeat ending (Michael is killed), morally tainted bittersweet ending (Michael sells out for the sake of his brother's family), brave Hollywood ending (Michael gets the bad guys), or the transcendent ending (Michael accepts his "death" and disappears into a fresh life).

Tony Gilroy is a heavy hitter writer (BOURNE ULTIMATUM) but this is his directing debut. Kids, this is how you get your break as a director. Write a frakking awesome script and convince George Clooney that you can direct it.

George Clooney has really nailed down his brand: really smart drama.

I notice that Steven Soderbergh and Antony Minghella are both Exec Producers. Interesting. Were they on the project as directors at some point? Or did they sign on as godfathers? How are there two major directors on board as godfathers?

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3 Comments:

Michael Clayton was one of my favourites from last year. I get very annoyed when people complain that it was boring. It's not the Bourne Ultimatum (which I also loved), but it's not supposed to be. It's a film for adults, unfortunately more and more adults seem to have the attention span of a 13 year old, nowadays. And people don't have the patience for a movie that takes it's time to build suspense and layer character development. It's a shame.

As far as I know, Tony Gilroy always wanted to direct the movie, and I believe was friends with Anthony Minghella and Steven Soderbergh, who probably helped champion him as the director. Apparently Clooney took a lot of convincing since he didn't want to work with a freshman director, no matter how good the screenplay was.

By Blogger Tim W., at 1:31 PM  

None of the scenes or characters in Michael Clayton are interesting. The plot is totally predictable from the start. There are a lot better "corrupt company" films out there, Erin Brokovich being one of the best.

But it is a script written by the book. That's why, I believe, scriptwriters love that film. (It is like a piece of music which is in fact an exerice but which also has some melodic quality to it.) You can see a plot or a character deepening technique coming from a mile: Hey, George Clooney has a gambling problem, his marriage is also in pieces, so we are supposed to identify with and feel sorry for him.

IMHO Michael Clayton is a proof that writing everything according to rules is just not enough for creativity. Try to look at it this way.

By Blogger gezgin, at 8:00 AM  

I'm constant;y amazed at how definitive some people can be about a subject that is generally, well, subjective. Personally, I liked Michael Clayton more than Erin Brokovich. Plus, Erin Brokovich is actually based on a true story. The stakes increase when the viewer knows a movie is based on a true story. It's why studios will do what they can to make sure there's that `based on a true story' or`inspired by a true story' tag is on there. It strengthens the audience's connection with the story and characters.

I do agree somewhat about one of your points, though. I often wonder where the direction to give some protagonists a `demon' to battle comes from. Perhaps the studio with one of the famous notes. Maybe it was done to attract an A-List actor looking for a `meatier role'. I've seen it when it looks like it was artificially shoved into the plot, and it never works. If done well, however, it seems natural and the viewer doesn't question it. I did think about it briefly when watching Michael Clayton, but I felt the writing was so good it fit in with the story. You, apparently, didn't. Funny how opinions work, isn't it.

By Blogger Tim W., at 10:41 PM  

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