Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton ★★★★


Genuinely perplexed/surprised : the only thing I knew of Gilroy before this was THE BOURNE LEGACY, which [barf noise]. Plus—and I swear I try not to judge a film by its outer shell if I can help it—something about the cumulative cover art, synopsis, trailer, etc., just screamed “rote legal procession” to me. Well, I was wrong. Sue me. Though over the past few days this has been marinating in my head, I’ve been having trouble surmising exactly why this is so much better than your typical Prestige Drama. The best I can come up with is that Gilroy doesn’t swerve this into some grandiose statement loaded with hammy moral about-facing. The film I was expecting would’ve had Mr. Clayton learning some Valuable Life Lesson, vocalizing about the corruption of the legal system, stroking against a didactic/advocating condemnation of Big Businesses, etc. but I am so so soooo happy to report that this is not that film. Even the climactic showdown with Karen feels far more motivated by Michael’s very deep, very personal vendetta against this woman, relishing in the opportunity he gets to exercise his lawyerly expertise and, to spite her dismissive meeting with him earlier in the film, superiority. Plus, the mise en scène of Michael’s departure + end credit drop over the lingering shot in the back of the taxicab is fucking exquisite, not least for the way it foregoes a bloated coda of edifying and/or self-gratifying celebration. It kind of grounds all the intense preceding shit as Just Another Day in Michael Clayton’s downward spiral of a virtuously bent profession. Hell, even the way it hints at his subpar home life—divorced from his wife, struggling to spend time with his kid, etc.—without turning into some sour statement about “letting work get the in the way of what’s important” is a mini-miracle. Sadly I do feel like much of the supporting cast here (aside from Pollack) is either underwritten, overacted, or purely functional, but given all the things that Gilroy gets right, also largely forgiveable.

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