Lowdown: A lawyer on the road to redemption.
Most annoying scene:
Shortly after the film starts, we see George Clooney driving frantically for no reason we can tell. He then stops the car and steps out; we learn that he did it in order to admire three horses from a close range. He walks towards the horses, and as he does so his car blows up. We are thus expected to accept that the admiration for those three horses has saved his life and set the entire film up.
The next thing you know, the caption says "four days earlier", and the rest of the film follows Michael Clayton (Clooney) up to the explosion and a bit further.
Films named after their main character puzzle me. In an environment where everything is artificial and under the control of a director, what reason does the director have to choose a meaningless name for a film? The only reason I can think of is in order to attract further attention to a specific character, probably due to desperation caused by being unable to find anything better. Indeed Michael Clayton's character is central to Michael Clayton the film, and the story of its redemption is what the film is all about. And indeed, the film smells like an effort to do something big that ended up in despair.
Clayton/Clooney is a lawyer that doesn't do much lawyering anymore. Instead he acts as a cleanup guy for his law company, helping clean after rich clients that did nasty stuff. His own life is in the shambles, just like the miserable lives he protects: he invested his money on a restaurant that went under, and now he lost all of it and owes tens of thousands to someone who would not stop at using force if the money is not returned quickly. As if that's not trouble enough, Clayton is also into gambling.
Then he's assigned to take care of Tom Wilkinson, a fellow lawyer in Clayton's company who has been working for years and years to defend in court this huge company that knowingly poisoned people. Wilkinson suffers from a rare disease: he can't take screwing up the good people any more and goes crazy instead, undressing in court.
A chain reaction starts: the nasty company sets out "nice" people to "take care" of Wilkinson, and as they move about Clayton gets too involved in their affairs. Between that and the other troubles Clayton is in, you wonder what it is exactly that won him the pleasure of getting his car blown up.
I'll be honest and say that in contrast to the raving reviews bestowed on Michael Clayton I didn't like the film. Sure, it gives a rather sincere depiction of people, nasty and imperfect on all sides, and it sports some good acting on behalf of several actors - Clooney, Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and the regularly directing Sydney Pollack. Swinton tops the list in her portrayal of a good business woman who aspires to go up high and on the way doesn't think twice about killing people as long as she doesn't know much about it (sounds a lot like what all of us allow our governments to do in our behalf). But Michael Clayton has too many problems for me to ignore.
First there's this business with the horses. Sure, I accept that things in life can happen when you least expect them; but stopping a frantic drive to admire horses is way too much. Then there's the issue of blowing up a car to get rid of someone: if you want to subtly get rid of someone, you do something subtle; you don't blow up their car. And this entire scheme of showing you the end first and then taking you back to the beginning just to show you that the end you saw earlier is not really what you thought you've seen is just plain cheating; it's not good movie making.
There are other rough edges to the script, but here's one problem with the script that is not that easy to ignore: The film is so preoccupied with offering a sophisticated view of Clooney's development while trying to take the viewer by surprise, it fails a very crucial test. It's plain boring most of the time, with just the very ending to provide some salvation.
Picture quality: Solid, yet lacking in detail due to the high contrast photography.
Sound quality: Like the film itself, there are some redeeming moments, but most of the time it's too subtle and too center speaker oriented.
Overall: Too boring to capture my heart. 2 out of 5 stars.