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HTF HD-DVD Review: Michael Clayton


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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

    Supporting Actor



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  • Join Date: Jun 13 2002

Posted March 08 2008 - 10:37 AM


Michael Clayton (HD-DVD)

Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: R (language including some sexual dialogue)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: Dolby Digital Plus English 5.1; French 5.1; Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English; French; Spanish.
Time: 120 minutes
Disc Format: 1 HD-DVD/ DVD combo disc.
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2007
HD-DVD Release Date: March 11, 2008


Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is what is called a “janitor” for a massive and prestigious New York law firm. His role (outside of being a lawyer) is to respond to clients who have got themselves in a jam and provide them with options prior to the police showing up. These high paying clients demand a certain level of care and they’re willing to pay for it. After a long night of card playing, Clayton responds to a law-breaking, upstate client and gives him his options. As he leaves there, he stops in a field to see three horses. His idyllic moment is soon shattered with the explosion of his car. Jump to four days earlier when Clayton’s boss, Marty (Sydney Pollack) and the other partners get a call that the lead lawyer on a near billion dollar case has gone crazy, stripping off his clothes in a deposition and spouting of nonsensical speeches.

Clayton is dispatched to clean up this situation. The demented lawyer in question is Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who has spent years on this case only to realize he and his firm are wrong to have defended an agriculture company who knowingly used pesticide that caused cancer in humans. Edens suffers from mental problems and this case has sent him over the edge. The agriculture company, U-North, has legal counsel as well to assist Edens in the form of Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who continually is looking after (and cleaning up after) Edens. The case begins to spiral out of control along with Edens psyche and Clayton is drawn into the maelstrom fending off threats at every new turn while trying to reconcile his own shifting morality.

I no longer like legal thrillers, either in books, TV shows, movies or what-have-you. Maybe it comes from watching too much LA Law, Ally McBeal or Matlock to really care anymore. We are usually presented with a liberal main character that’s “staking their reputation and their life on the line to find the truth” (can’t you just hear that voice over?). In the real world, while the pay and benefits are pretty darn good, very rarely do lawyers conform to that voice over. Many times they’re just as stressed and over worked as us blue collar workers. While I believe it is a noble profession, our media has provided us with the same cookie cutter stories for years now. With Michael Clayton we are finally getting away from that (just to be sure, there’s still a little pontification here), and writer/ director Tony Gilroy is skillfully blended the thriller with the legal procedural.

Clooney plays Clayton as a mentally and morally exhausted man who keeps doing the job until he can set something up he really wants to do, such as opening a bar with his brother. When that goes bust, he is forced to continue his janitorial duties at least for a while longer to bail out his bro. Meanwhile he tries to teach is young son a better way of life. Clayton is seen in the latter part of his fairly distinguished career, where in the Grisham du-jour you’d probably replace him with a young upstart who looked like Tom Cruise fifteen years ago. Clooney turns in a worthy Oscar nominated performance here, and Wilkinson and Swinton do as well. The latter two also contribute to a floating moral center of the picture, pushing Clayton around as he struggles to be true to himself and those he cares about.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Toshiba HD-XA2 HD-DVD player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

The HD-DVD is in the VC-1 codec presented at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Sharpness and detail are inconsistent: dark scenes tend to drag it down only to rebound in the lighter ones. Black levels are very thick and dense showing some depth and detail. I tried to up the contrast levels on my projector only to find the picture was this dark intentionally. The picture is de-saturated leaving most of the colors and flesh tones looking pale as if to only reinforce the grey moral lines. It also hearkens back to the 70’s pictures it was inspired by. Due to the darkness and de-saturation of the film, the image comes off as flat. Film grain is very apparent often melting what would otherwise be sharp edges. The whites tend to bloom in the darker scenes such as with bright headlights or window lights in the night. I did not notice any video noise or artifacts, but there were occasional instances of edge enhancement.


Audio:
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the Toshiba XA2 to the Denon 3808CI.

Usually at this point I’d begin bitching about the lack of a lossless soundtrack, but there’s so little to this track that it’s not even worth it. The film consists mainly of vocals with little bits of incidental music and environmental effects that wake the other channels. LFE are only engaged a couple times. The main scene that gives us any indication there is more to the soundtrack is when Edens plays the U-North theme over his home stereo system. This brief segment is rich and encompassing. What is presented in the soundtrack is clean and clear with no distortion.


Bonus Material:

Feature Length Commentary with Writer/ Director Tony Gilroy and Editor John Gilroy: Tony discusses the genesis of the picture and gives us a great idea of how exciting it is to have Clooney do your picture. The Gilroy’s go through the usual commentary fodder discussing the actors, the story and the shoot. For a writer/ director who spent such a long time to get the picture made and then to be lucky enough to get it nominated for Oscars, you’d think he’d be a bit more thoughtful.

Additional Scenes (5:42, in SD): three different scenes with optional commentary by the Gilroy’s. Not much to speak of and Tony Gilroy admits they almost made it in. The scenes help to flesh out Clayton a little more, but they were rightfully cut.


Conclusions:
Tony Gilroy turns in one fine picture here, with excellent performances by Clooney, Wilkinson and Swinton. The HD-DVD’s video transfer seems to capture the theatrical experience with its darkness, film grain and washed out colors. The soundtrack itself is lacking, as are the minimal extras.

[PG]118369204[/PG]
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.