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Michael Clayton - DVD Review



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</script></div>{/googleAds}Considering that first-time director Tony Gilroy, whose previous writing credits include the Bourne trilogy, also penned the lawyer-cum-Lucifer thriller, The Devil's Advocate, it doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to discern where the legal profession falls on his hierarchy of moral fitness. (Or, probably on yours, for that matter.) And his latest project, the multi-Oscar® nominated Michael Clayton, replete with unsavory characters who comprise an ethically-blinded defense team, seems to only second that motion.

Regardless, Gilroy knows that stereotypical legal caricatures, who make up in arrogance and greed for what they lack in ethics, is hardly a novel Hollywood design; been there, done that a thousand times. However, the well-deserved buzz surrounding Michael Clayton comes from his uncanny ability to overrule the competition without a second of the commonly misguided courtroom fluff. Instead, through intellectual manipulation, powerful dialogue, a blockbuster ensemble and tense, conspiracy-laced drama, Michael Clayton effectively turns a corporate devised legal battle into an engaging exercise in crisis of conscience.

For the past six years, international powerhouse Kenner Bach & Ledeen has been entangled in a $3 billion class action lawsuit filed against mega-client and agrichemical giant, U/North. Drowning in a sea of discovery and watching the billable-hour meter run without pause, renowned defense litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) suddenly experiences the overwhelming sensation that he is covered in some sort of film - his hair, his face . . . his hands. Off his meds and harboring a desperate need to cleanse, Arthur strips himself naked during a deposition, repeatedly professing his love for the Plaintiff, and above all else, begging for her forgiveness.

Despite being 600-attorneys strong, managing partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack in a stand out role) calls in Special Counsel Michael Clayton (George Clooney) for immediate damage control. Carrying a J.D. in his back pocket, Clayton doesn't practice - not in the traditional sense, anyway. Instead, Clayton is the guy that is phoned frantically in the middle of the night when a prestigious client hits a pedestrian and leaves the scene, or when a PR disaster needs to be swept under the rug. Peers affectionately refer to him as â"a miracle worker," or most commonly, â"the fixer"; ask him, however, and he'll tell you that he's just a glorified â"janitor." But while most cleanups merely call for a greased palm or phoned-in favor, Clayton soon realizes that his unconventional resources are no match for the damage churning through his friend's episodic breakdowns.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to his colleagues, Clayton's personal life is unraveling as swiftly as Arthur's mind. A divorced, recovering gambling addict whose $75,000 investment - and orchestrated â"out" of firm-life - is lost thanks to a cocaine-addicted brother, Clayton finds himself torn between loyalty to his blue collar blood and a firm that finds him not-quite-white-collar-enough to make partner, despite seventeen faithful years. Struggling to find substance in a life plagued with disappointment, the only thing he stumbles upon, is Arthur's smoking gun.

With a confidential U/North memo acknowledging the transmission of cancer causing agents via running water, in-hand, Arthur's mission to expose the truth - and ultimately, be set free - not only threatens corporate slaughter, but the firm's quiet merger. Now strapped to a ticking time bomb, the once morally-void Clayton must race to make clarity out of Arthur's chaos while reconciling principle with profession. But when U/North's chief in-house counsel (Tilda Swinton) - equally uncompromising in her effort to maintain corporate status - threatens to stop at nothing in order to silence Arthur, or anyone else that steps within the line of fire, Clayton realizes that in a professional band of brothers, he is suddenly the target that stands alone.

The complex-layered Michael Clayton conjures a tone reminiscent of cinema's most prestigious legal predecessors - the corporate greed and social consciousness driving A Civil Action and Erin Brockovitch; amoral counsel's quest for redemption in Verdict; even the conspiracy and suspense-filled pages of John Grisham's finest. However, it raises the bar (and quite possibly redefines the genre) by, despite having a legal core, captivating without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. Instead, Michael Clayton moves through the dark and disillusioned shadows of a defense team that finds truth to be as malleable as the law, itself.

Taxing as it is, the burden is carried easily by Swinton, Wilkinson and Clooney, whose performances shock with such gritty realism that they are borderline haunting. Swinton, fresh off an Oscar® win, is particularly bewitching as the sexless female atop a male-dominated corporate food-chain. In both of her bookend scenes, Gilroy injects her flawless and razor-tongued presentations with unflattering images of her panicked and sweat-soaked self, rehearsing those very words with painstaking precision. Although her private vulnerability only makes her human, it is what lies beneath the polished exterior that makes her a monster. That chilling ability to make you both fear and pity her is what makes Swinton quietly brilliant as the unlikely face of evil.

Wilkinson's portrayal of the extraordinary mind that succumbs to guilt, however, is the performance that shakes Michael Clayton to the core. A deeply conflicted man-child who speaks in desperate voice-overs or crazed epiphany-cries (â"I am Shiva, the god of death!"), and whose newfound philosophies are borne from a child's fantasy novel (the aptly-titled, Realm & Conquest, compliments of Clayton's son), the beauty of his character is that the Truth not only lies in his lucid moments of brilliance, but also in his madness.

With so many characters willing to lie and die for the cause, it's ironic that the cynical and self-absorbed Clayton is the one recruited to set it on track; especially since he doesn't seem to care much about anyone (except, of course, for his son, with whom he shares a tough, but tender, scene), or anything. But working in the cold and dreary gray zones, without a need for smugness or a flashy-white smile, is what Clooney clearly does best these days (Syriana, Good Night, and Good Luck). Michael Clayton is no exception. In an understated and brooding performance that settles more in its extended silence than in its oral arguments, Clooney is, quite simply, the glue that holds this phenomenal film together.

For the action hungry fan, be forewarned: there are no special effects, no excessive explosions (ok, one), no sex, and no cheap thrills. Instead, like the profession it mimics, Michael Clayton is a slow, but steady, battle of wits and words; a world where everyone is in conflict; a place where there are always winners and losers, but never heroes. Granted, there are flaws in its storylines, and in its legal strategies (last time I checked, trying to â"off" an adversary, albeit tempting, was admonished by the Rules of Professional Conduct); however, when a film succeeds on so many other levels - sophisticated storytelling, tight direction, complexly crafted characters that leave no psychological stone unturned, knock-out performances, mood-altering cinematography, one of the most realistic renditions of big-firm life, to date, and pure intellectual entertainment - those minor faults seem all the more inconsequential. Quite simply, classic movie-making is back.

There is a scene in Michael Clayton where the title character approaches his boss from a newfound position of integrity, questioning whether all this time, they had been fighting the good fight, but for all the wrong reasons. Marty, resigned to his professional choices, replies â"Wrong side? This is news? This case reeked from day one. Fifteen years in and I have to tell you how we pay the rent?" While it's hardly a startling revelation, it hits home for anyone - lawyers and laymen alike - who have ever felt like they were merely cogs in the corporate wheel. It certainly causes Clayton to pause and reflect on his station in life and surprisingly enough, you may find yourself doing the same. And therein, my friends, lies the appeal.


DVD

DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.78:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish

Language and Sound: English: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Deleted Scenes - 3 scenes that didn't make the final cut with optional commentary.
* Commentary - feature-length commentary with the Gilroys

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging

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