I recently read a wonderful article by Time magazine on George Clooney. They consider him perhaps the last movie star and talk about his down-to-earth nature and approachable demeanor. Clooney has certainly established himself as one of today's true leading men and his body of work as an actor is quite impressive. He has come a long way since "Return of the Killer Tomatoes" in 1988 and since his acclaimed days as Dr. Doug Ross on the television series "ER" from 1994 to 1999, Clooney has been in great demand. The films I have enjoyed the most featuring Clooney include "From Dusk Till Dawn," "Out of Sight," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Good Luck, and Good Night." He has been in numerous other fine films and about the only film that has haunted Clooney is his turn as Batman in "Batman & Robin." I'm in the minority in believing that Clooney wasn't all that terribly bad in the film. It was just everything else that stunk.
"Michael Clayton" is Clooney's latest endeavor in front of the camera and his performance as the title character earned Clooney an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The film is a fine picture from first time director Tony Gilroy and would be a solid film without Clooney leading the way, but with the 46 year old actor on board, "Michael Clayton" is a potent legal thriller that breaks convention by having Clooney star as a ‘cleaner' who has been moved away from being a trial lawyer to becoming the go-to guy when high priced clients go astray for his firm. In the role, Clooney brings intelligence, confidence and humanity. His character knows what he is doing and is good at his job. However, he is in financial problems after a business deal with a troubled brother breaks down and his own demons include a penchant for high-stakes gambling.
Clayton doesn't necessarily enjoy his role in the law firm as a ‘janitor' and pines to find something else in life. He has a failed marriage and has part time custody over his son Henry (Austin Williams). His brother Timmy (David Lansbury) has left him high and dry after they opened a bar together and he has borrowed money and owes nearly $80,000 to cover the costs of the closed bar and must come up with the money or suffer the consequences due to his brother's walking out on the deal and turning back to a life of drug addiction. After seventeen years with the firm, Clayton has little to no chance of becoming a partner and with the bar closed, he has nothing else to turn to and finds himself trapped into a career that doesn't make him very happy.
One day Clayton is sent by his boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) to clean up a situation when partner Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) strips naked during a deposition and declares his love for a young prosecution witness named Anna Kaiserson (Merritt Wever). The firm is at risk of losing their contract on a three billion dollar lawsuit with agricultural mega-corporation U-North and Clayton must satisfy their high priced client and have them believe that Edens has only stopped taking his medication and will be back to normal and able to effectively defend U-North in short time. Their primary lawyer, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is neither impressed with Michael and is worried that Arthur's mental breakdown will be ammunition enough for the lawsuit to fall apart and the millions of dollars paid for his services to have been a lost cause. The potential three billion dollar lawsuit is enough to break U-North and they will do anything to make sure their best interests are served.
The request to clean up Arthur's mess turns out to be a job that Clayton would rather not have taken. Arthur runs away from the hotel they are staying at and begins to call Anna and other clients. After some research, it appears that Arthur is preparing a case against U-North and has created a strong case for those that claim to have been physically harmed by chemicals used by the company. Crowder gives the okay for employees of U-North to bug the telephones of Arthur and eventually they decide that the only way around the problems posed by Arthur is to silence the legendary lawyer forever. This puts Clayton into the crosshairs and realizes he is a target by those that work for U-North as well and in addition to the financial crisis he is in; he is involved in a case that he may not walk away from.
Tilda Swinton earned herself an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the film, but it is Clooney that commands the camera and makes "Michael Clayton" one of the better films of 2007. When Clooney is in the sight of the lens, his character exudes a charisma and confidence that has the audience easily believe that Clayton is capable of cleaning up any mess and making everybody's day a little bit better. He seems to forgo his own happiness for his job and his relationship with his son is not what he hopes it to be and his troubled relationship with brothers Timmy and Gene (Sean Cullin) are not the strongest either. This ability to convey confidence, but vulnerability is something that only an actor of Clooney's caliber is capable of. Clooney is good in every frame he exists in and he truly deserved the nomination he earned from his performance.
The remainder of the cast is good as well and although I believe Swinton is an Oscar worthy actress, I did not feel her role in "Michael Clayton" was among her better performances. I thought her performances in "Adaptation" and "The Beach" were better showcases of her talent and thought the casting of her as Gabriel in "Constantine" was marvelous. She is good as Karen Crowder, but was continuously overshadowed by Clooney and aside from perhaps two or three scenes, didn't feel she put forth the ‘Best Supporting Actress' performance in this film. Sydney Pollack, Tom Wilkinson and young Austin Williams were also quite wonderful in the film. Pollack and Wilkinson are familiar faces that routinely put forth good performances, but I was impressed with how young Williams handled himself while sharing screen time with George Clooney.
First time director Tony Gilroy made his mark by serving as the screenwriter for the three Jason Bourne films. For the past seven years, these films were the livelihood of Gilroy, but his gift for writing intelligent and detailed stories evolves with his story for "Michael Clayton" and with Gilroy helming the project as well, this is a personal endeavor that has the same deep and detailed presence of the three "Bourne" movies and the freshmen director shows maturity in his work and I was more than happy to see he didn't utilize the quick-editing and fast-cutting techniques of Paul Greengrass and his ‘shaky-cam' that is quite familiar to those that follow the Matt Damon starred pictures. Gilory has crafted a tense and beautiful film that builds to an effective conclusion and showcases his ability as a top-tier writer. "Michael Clayton" is Tony Gilroy's movie and while George Clooney brings an incredible performance, the success of this extremely good film is due to Gilroy's writing and direction.
"Michael Clayton" looks good in its 1080p glory as a 2.40:1 framed, VC-1 encoded Blu-ray release. The film isn't as deep and colorful as many other titles on the format, but it has a convincing natural look to the film that features nicely saturated colors and better-than-average detail. With Gilroy working so closely with Paul Greengrass for a number of years, I feared that the director would have adopted some of Greengrass' style. He did not and for that I am quite pleased. The cameras used in the film are consistently focused on close-ups and constricted environments, but there are a few rather good wide-angle shots that give "Michael Clayton" a slightly epic look.
As mentioned, detail is quite good; however, I did not feel as if the film had a routine three-dimensional appeal that comes with high definition. I found the transfer faltered a little bit during very dark sequences and there was more than one instance where I had a little difficulty making out details in the dark. As a result, black levels are not overly impressive and a border on the lighter side a couple times. Colors are natural, but not overly processed and I felt the film looked very ‘real world.' Source materials are clean and there is a thin sheen of film grain in a couple sequences, but I didn't see any problems with the digital transfer such as edge enhancement and while "Michael Clayton" isn't a stellar looking Blu-ray release, it still looks quite good.
An English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is provided for "Michael Clayton," as well as accompanying French and Spanish 5.1 mixes. Warner Bros. has nixed any inclusion of a TrueHD or Uncompressed PCM soundtrack that would have benefitted this film. However, "Michael Clayton" is primary contained in the front three channels and the mix primarily features a plethora of conversation, but not much in the sound-effects department. Clayton's car explodes at one point and there is some driving sequences, but beyond that, there is not a lot of excitement in the sound mix for "Michael Clayton." The busy city streets do provide for some ambient moments, but bass response and rear presence is fairly thin for this film. Dialogue is the most important aspect of "Michael Clayton" and fortunately, the spoken word sounds very good. The musical score by James Newton Howard has some presence in the film, but becomes almost transparent behind the acting of George Clooney.
"Michael Clayton" isn't blessed with a nice batch of supplements. In fact, there are only two. The first, a Commentary by Writer / Director Tony Gilroy and Editor John Gilroy is one of those commentaries that will only be interesting to the absolutely most fervent fans of the film. The Gilroy brothers spend much of the time during the commentary patting each other and those involved in the making of the film on the back and praising their efforts in crafting this award winning film. They don't delve too deeply into background information and I had difficulty spending more than a half hour on the commentary as I surfed through it by chapter stops. The collection of three Additional Scenes (5:42) contains an optional commentary by Tony and John Gilroy as well. These scenes are clumped together into one running supplement. The bonus scenes includes a romantic interest for Clayton and an explanation as to how Clayton knows about the merger mentioned in the film. The final two scenes tend not to lend much more to the storyline.
Earning seven Academy Award nominations, "Michael Clayton" is a very effective legal drama that mixes a top-notch performance by George Clooney with a wonderful script and perfect outing by freshman director Tony Gilroy. This is easily one of the best films of 2007 and the film makes its way to Blu-ray just as the Academy Awards ceremony hands out its awards to capitalize on any awards won. Unfortunately, only Tilda Swinton earned a little gold statue. Hopefully, the film can find a bigger audience than it did in theaters without a big party after the Oscars. It is truly a great film to watch. The Blu-ray release features a good, but not overly impressive visual transfer and the limited sound design of the film don't allow the vanilla Dolby Digital 5.1 mix to shine. Supplements are weak. I imagine that a special edition release would have been a larger possibility had "Michael Clayton" won a few more Oscars and there still might be something better down the road. A great film, but not necessarily a great Blu-ray release.