Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Michael Clayton

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is the community that comes with the activity. I've enjoyed making some new friends, and emailing back and forth about movies and other interests.

Spike Nesmith, a Charleston WV blogger and radio personality, commented about the newly released movie Michael Clayton recently on his blog, Blog! The Musical. I like the kid's moxy, so I invited him to review it here.

And the bastard took me up on it!

Here it is, unedited and as-is. It's an entertaining read, unless you are a WQBE fan.

First off, thanks to The Film Geek for allowing me to hijack his blog! He and Jedijawa are the bloggers I'd like to be when I grow up.

It's not often that I believe movie reviews. In fact, I make it a point to ignore them as much as possible. Having been a former "showbiz" commentator myself, I know that sometimes one takes a contrary position to what one actually believes for the good of the joke, or to create a more interesting or compelling review. Negatives are, invariably, what gets a review noticed. Hyperbolic negatives, a billion times so. However, having seen on 'The Google' that George Clooney's new movie, "Michael Clayton", hadn't dipped below an average of three stars - and from some usually reliable sources - I was suitably intrigued enough to read a few in my search to find some weekend entertainment.

Let's be honest here; modern movies, for the most part, are rubbish... but some are enjoyable rubbish. "Things Exploding III" is to the artform of cinema what peanut butter on a chocolate cookie is to nutrition; it fills an immediate hole enjoyably, but has little to no longterm benefits. Does it make them less valuable? Perhaps, but no less enjoyable in the moment. If I paid eight dollars to see "The Third Man" and eight dollars to see "Transformers", I'd be perfectly happy that sixteen dollars (plus tax, minus popcorn) had been well spent. So on the rare occasions that I have access to a babysitting service (thanks, the Spike-in-laws!) and feel like a trip to my friendly neighbourhood multiplex, I tend to be attracted to movies where people might swear or hit each other and don't burst into song or have wisecracking animal sidekicks, and that usually ends up being one from the "Things Exploding" franchise by default. Let's be brutally honest, what other choices are there around here?

I choose my movies in the same way I shop for a car. When I go car shopping, I go in with the knowledge that I'm probably going to get lied to and ripped off - the key is to minimise the ripped-offedness and try to ignore the lies, so I do my best to research beforehand rather than falling prey to seduction-by-title-alone. Where most multiplex movies are awarded high marks based on how much T&A is flashed, how many cars are asploded and how many hilarious wisecracks the big-name star rattles off (not that there's anything wrong with that), I went in expecting to try to decipher what, other than those three main multiplex ingredients, would attract me to "Michael Clayton".

For a start, I knew nothing about this movie. I had seen it advertised on TV a few times and had remarked to Mrs Spike that no part of the plot had been revealed whatsoever. Turns out that that was probably on purpose. Far be it from me to claim superiority over ANYONE, but "Michael Clayton" isn't a film specifically aimed at the slack-jawed, gum-chewing lumpenprolitariat. It's no "Fast And Furious 2, Tokyo Boogaloo". It's a smart movie - slow at times, complex at times, incomprehensible at times. If you have a WQBE sticker on your car, chances are this movie's not for you.

I'll spare you the plot details, you can find that out anywhere else, what I will tell you is that I was shocked. Not a Casablanca-style sarcastic-shocked (SHOCKED!), genuinely shocked that a major studio had made a film for grown-ups. A thickly-plotted, slow-moving film that leaves plenty of questions unanswered. It doesn't patronise its audience by having legal terms translated in unconvincing ways, it trusts us to be able to follow along in context, it babys us only very slightly in its demonstration of what Clooney's eponymous character actually does for the law firm. And only one explosion. And a relevant one, at that!

The performances are what *really* make the film, though. Say what you want about Clooney, but the boy has an acting instinct and uses it here, acting from the inside out. He doesn't have to say "I'm weary" or "I'm in trouble" or "I don't know how to handle this situation" out loud, he acts it. He's not a sex symbol in the movie. He's not a super cool suave bastard surrounded by a bevvy of swooning extras, he's a regular guy who has a crappy job which he hates but needs. Surprisingly, Clooney is not the stand-out here. Inasmuch as his performance is perhaps the best of his career (at least as good as in "Syriana"), the real talk-aboutable performance is from Tilda Swinton, whose character swings convincingly between sharkish and super-confident corporate chief council to a frightened, imperfect, self-confident mouse. I said this elsewhere, but I'll say it again and on the record now that I'm on a blog that people actually read: it will be a damn shame if Clooney doesn't get an Oscar for this. It will be a travesty if Tilda Swinton doesn't. I've never seen her in anything that convinced me she was something other than a competent performer, what she is in "Michael Clayton" is an *actor*. If all I got to see for my eight bucks were her scenes, I'd still be happy.


The direction is unintrusive, the script is razor sharp with dialogue that is nothing other than almost completely convincing, the other performances are all great to fantastic and the final payoff is fist-pumpingly tremendous. My only complaint, referenced on my own blog, is the "homage" shot at the end. 'Oh sure,' I hear you cry, 'one man's homage is another man's rip-off', but it's at least fair to say that the closing shot to "Michael Clayton" is an awful lot like Bob Hoskins' in "The Long Good Friday"; the difference being that one is in little doubt over Hoskins' character's fate where the future of Clooney's Michael Clayton is entirely mysterious - and therein lies the beauty of the performance and the bravery of the shot. Had it been a lesser movie, I would have stomped my little feet and cried foul - here, it acts as an effective cap to a thoroughly enjoyable two hours. But if he says "the Mafia? I've shit 'em!" or "pig-eyed micks" or "get 'im a decent stone" in the sequel, I'll know it was less than homage... Damn, I love that movie.

If you go in to the movie theatre open to longueurs, ready to pay attention and not expecting "Things Exploding", you will - hopefully - be just as impressed as I.

3 comments:

Spike Nesmith said...

Boy... I talk too much!

Either my g-mail, your AOL or blogger cut off the last two paragraphs, so here they are. Think of this as the extras on the DVD:

The direction is unintrusive, the script is razor sharp with dialogue that is nothing other than almost completely convincing, the other performances are all great to fantastic and the final payoff is fist-pumpingly tremendous. My only complaint, referenced on my own blog, is the "homage" shot at the end. 'Oh sure,' I hear you cry, 'one man's homage is another man's rip-off', but it's at least fair to say that the closing shot to "Michael Clayton" is an awful lot like Bob Hoskins' in "The Long Good Friday"; the difference being that one is in little doubt over Hoskins' character's fate where the future of Clooney's Michael Clayton is entirely mysterious - and therein lies the beauty of the performance and the bravery of the shot. Had it been a lesser movie, I would have stomped my little feet and cried foul - here, it acts as an effective cap to a thoroughly enjoyable two hours. But if he says "the Mafia? I've shit 'em!" or "pig-eyed micks" or "get 'im a decent stone" in the sequel, I'll know it was less than homage... Damn, I love that movie.

If you go in to the movie theatre open to longueurs, ready to pay attention and not expecting "Things Exploding", you will - hopefully - be just as impressed as I.

The Film Geek said...

Thanks Spike! Posting that was a blast for me.

What's funny to me? That you said "Boy--I talk too much," and then added two more paragraphs!

Funny as hell.

Thanks, man. That was fun.

JDB said...

If you have a WQBE sticker on your car, chances are this movie's not for you.

That should be in the next batch of ads for that flick!