Directed By: Tony Gilroy
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
George Clooney portrays the title character in writer/director Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton. Clayton works for a mammoth law firm, but rarely appear in court or prepares paperwork for their clients. Instead, he works behind the scenes as a "fixer" when members of the firm or high profile clients have large-scale personal issues requiring a good deal of discretion. His natural charisma coupled with his rapport with law enforcement from both his childhood as the son of a police officer and his early professional experience in the New York District Attorney's office put him in a unique position to clean other people's dirty laundry. As the film opens we learn that his firm, headed by hard-nosed senior partner Marty Bach (Pollack) are in the midst of hammering out a class-action settlement agreement for mammoth corporate client UNorth. As a seemingly frazzled Michael goes about his business, he experiences a shocking event which then shifts the movie's timeline back several days to show the events leading up to the UNorth settlement. We learn that Michael is beset with financial difficulties brought on by an ill-fate restaurant business venture with his troubled brother. On top of his financial woes, the simultaneous crisis of conscience and manic-depressive episode of his firm's chief litigator, Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), initiates a chain of events, catalyzed by the ruthless and amoral chief counsel for UNorth, Karen Crowder (Swinton), that are way beyond the ability of Michael to control.
Gilroy's directorial debut is an engaging thriller that in many ways harkens back to films of the 1970s from the likes of Sidney Lumet or even co-star Sydney Pollack. There are certainly echoes of Howard Beale from Lumet's Network in Wilkinson's character of Arthur Edens, but nothing approaching a rip-off or anything more than a tangential homage.
Technically, the film embraces the 1970s Hollywood vibe by eschewing the quick cut editing style of most modern thrillers and including a high percentage of shots with static frames with characters moving in, out, and around. The film is structured in a way that suggests more complexity than there actually is. Once the first flashback occurs, things move forward in a linear and sensible way that dovetails nicely with the prologue material. In addition, the film was shot with anamorphic lenses -- usually fairly long ones with limited depth of field that draw the viewers eyes to the plane of focus creating a sense of depth in the frame. One modern tool they do take advantage of is digital image grading, which allows the filmmakers to achieve some very dark images with decent shadow detail and less film grain than one would see in a Gordon Willis-shot film from decades past.
Films like Michael Clayton, regardless of what decade they are released, live and die based on the quality of their actors. Director Gilroy took no chances in this regard starting with Clooney, who gives an egoless performance as a once slick operator who has apparently exhausted his charm. He spends much of the movie being out-maneuvered and humiliated by nearly everyone with whom he comes into contact, and yet Clooney somehow is able to suggest Clayton's past glories without the benefit of any flashbacks to his headier days. Wilkinson plays the manic-depressive behavioral swings of Arthur with just enough restraint to keep him from going over the top while also convincingly portraying his keen legal mind. Tilda Swinton also does a neat turn as the UNorth general counsel who is nervous about public speaking, but discovers in her self a cold-blooded streak that turns her to increasingly darker and drastic measures to protect her company.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 transfer is a bit of a disappointment. It is plagued by too many instances of compression-related noise to be satisfying on a large projection screen. This is strange because the average bit rate seems pretty high for this dual layered disc with only a modest amount of extra features. On the positive side, shadow detail is very impressive for this very darkly lit film.
I have no complaints about the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix which provides excellent fidelity and decent dimensionality using the surrounds effectively primarily for immersive environmental effects. The LFE channel comes into play in a few key sequences that logically lend themselves to it, but is overall used sparingly. An English 2.0 Pro-Logic track is also available as well as alternate language Dolby Digital 5.1tracks in French and Spanish.
The Commentary by Director Tony Gilroy and Film Editor John Gilroy runs the full length of the movie with few gaps or slow spots. Tony Gilroy begins by discussing the long genesis of the project, which was aided greatly by his accumulation of producing partners including Sydney Pollack, Stephen Soderbergh, and, finally, George Clooney. After this, the discussion shifts to primarily technical topics having to do with the film's production and editing. They rarely discuss story or screenplay elements except to cover deleted scenes and perceived plot holes. While Tony does most of the talking, the two Gilroys prove to be excellent foils for each other, mutually soliciting comments and keeping things moving at a decent pace. One of the questions many viewers of the film frequently ask is "Why does Michael stop and get out of his car?" at one particular critical juncture. They do point out in the commentary where a piece of CGI was inserted that reveals the answer to this question. I will not spoil exactly what it is, but it is during the scene where Michael is in Arthur's apartment. In a nice touch, this commentary is also available with English subtitles.
Additional Scenes with [Optional] Commentary by Director Tony Gilroy and Film Editor John Gilroy includes three scenes deleted from the film for time with commentary explaining the reasoning behind them. The commentary on the deleted scenes is also available with English subtitles. The scenes are as follow:
- The first scene reveals an excised romantic relationship between Michael and one of his co-workers.(2:09)
- A scene with Michael and an attorney arranging another "fix" that would have slotted into the film's opening sequence before the flashback (1:23)
- A scene where two assassins discuss planting a bomb in a car.(:45)
When the disc is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with six skippable promotional spots, all of them presented in 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. They are as follows:
- The Brave One DVD Trailer (:33)
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford DVD Trailer (:32)
- State of Play BBC Television Series DVD Trailer (1:01)
- 10,000 B.C. Theatrical Teaser (1:17)
- Funny Games Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
- Get Smart Theatrical Teaser (1:15)
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no inserts.
Tony Gilroy's directorial debut is a satisfying retro-thriller featuring a strong performance from the ultimate retro movie star, George Clooney, and outstanding supporting turns from Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton. It is presented on DVD with a slightly disappointing video presentation due to compression artifacts with a satisfyingly immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Extras include an outstanding, technically oriented commentary from Gilroy and his brother, John, who edited the film, as well as a collection of three deleted scenes.