Last night, we went to see Michael Clayton. I’d read fabulous reviews of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, but I find it harder and harder to see downbeat films full of violence. There’s just too much violence in the real world for me to be able to enjoy it represented on screen. I know it means I’m missing some amazing films and acting.
Michael Clayton is a terrific film. A dramatic thriller involving corporate and legal skulduggery, it features a wonderful cast involving some of the finest actors working today including George Clooney in the lead, Tom Wilkinson in an astonishing performance (not rewarded with an Oscar unfortunately) as a former hotshot corporate lawyer turned raving mystical lunatic, Tilda Swinton (who did win the Oscar in her category), and Sydney Pollack (who also was one of the film’s producers).
To tell the truth, the plot was a little thin. It involves a sleazy multinational agritech corporation a la Monsanto selling a cancer-causing weed killer, which leads to a $3-billion class action suit. My wife (an attorney) and I also laughed at Clooney’s role as his law firm’s “fixer.” The guy (every law firm has one, don’t they?) who makes knotty problems go away with the wave of his hand. Rain-maker partner has a nervous breakdown? No problem. Get him into Betty Ford and clean up the mess after him. Big client involved in hit and run accident? We can make it go away.
But what is marvelous about this film is the character portrayals. Clooney is at his most compelling in the role of a troubled man seeking desperately to find some greater meaning to his life than fixing the worst problems of a group of lawyers who see him as little better than a “human janitor.” He is the good man confronting evil with just his bare wits.
Though Wilkinson’s role and portrayal of a top-flight corporate litigator unraveling in the midst of a professional and spiritual crisis are a bit showy and mannered, it’s still a tour de force. The only reason he didn’t win is the incredibly strong competition he faced in his category.
Tilda Swinton’s performance as general counsel of the sleazy multinational corporation is also a bit showy for my taste. But I’ve liked her in everything she’s been in and she’s a class act. She was especially fine in The Deep End, which I highly recommend. Her Oscar couldn’t have happened to a more deserving actor.
One of the great highlights of the film is the last scene in which Clooney, who is supposed to be dead, confronts Swinton with the unmasking of her evil machinations. The former’s line: “I’m the guy you want to buy, not the one you want to kill” is as dramatically powerful as any of the best lines delivered by Marlon Brando, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart. And of course, Clooney’s selling of this deception to Swinton is her undoing. What is especially great about the scene is that in the midst of it and until the very last second you don’t know whether Clooney is going to allow himself to be bought or stand for something better. I don’t want to explain this for fear of spoiling it for anyone who might see the film.
Watching Clooney in this film brought me so much satisfaction contemplating an actor who got his break on a superior TV show; but who has gone on, unlike most other actors in his position, and created a superb career. He’s picked fine film vehicles for his talent, plus films that have a social conscience. The man has a mind in addition to whatever gifts God gave him. If you compare him to other male stars like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, or Nicholas Cage, the difference is that Clooney is less about the celebrity than about what he can do with the celebrity to advance projects and ideas in which he believes. How many are there like him in Hollywood? A few perhaps. But not many.
On a different note, for any Seattlites reading this we had dinner afterward at Porcella, a very nice Bellevue restaurant which I recommend. I had butternut squash soup with balsamic vinegar, lamb osso buco with lentils and chocolate pot au crème. What was especially lovely was our waiter bringing to our table a 7 year old “assistant” who helped take our order. She also served our food and cleaned away our dishes. Since we have a son about to turn 7 next month, I was intrigued by our eager and precocious young waiter in training. I thought she might be the waiter’s or owner’s daughter. Turns out she was the daughter of customers who were also eating there that night. Natalie, the girl’s name, was so into the idea of waiting tables that the actual waiter took her under his wing and let her join him. I thought it was splendid of him. She had a good time and her parents got to have a nice dinner to themselves. I wanted to leave her a tip in addition to his but she’d already left the restaurant by the time we paid our bill.
Porcella Urban Market
10245 Main Street
Bellevue, WA 98004