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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Michael Clayton

Don't read this if you haven't seen the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, see it.

I have to place Michael Clayton way up on my list of all-time favorite movies. It was absolutely superb in every way: great actors, a demanding and relevant story, cool music, and it just has a great depth to it that is hard to define but you know it when you see it. The story requires that you fill in a lot of the blanks about the characters without the director just dumping the usual Hollywood clich├ęs in your lap. He is a compulsive gambler but they don't go into much detail. What they do give you are a few ancillary views into his problem. The debt collector guy who is there when his restaurant is being broke down is a very original version of the mob bag man. I also thought the card game was done really well and revealed a lot about the central character—mainly that he had a serious problem with gambling. We get just enough dialogue to learn what we need to know about his restaurant, problems with betting, and family difficulties.

The dudes who worked for the hit man agency, or whatever the hell it was, were really creepy and totally believable. The agency itself was thoroughly creepy and you have to wonder if something like this service is available to huge corporations to take out their garbage. Even these guys, the worst people in the film, weren't shown as heartless pricks but as professionals dedicated to their nefarious jobs. The fact that they worked with a professional detachment made them far more ominous than the usual Hollywood thugs.

I noticed a lot of the dialogue that was directed to people off-screen—telephone calls, orders given to employees in the office, etc. It's something you usually don't think about much but I couldn't help but notice how well done this was throughout the film. I did noticed that they used the tired old expression, “We have a situation,” but the rest of the dialogue was excellent. Even if people really do say stuff like, “We have a situation,” writers should keep it out of films. The only reason people say shit like that in real life is because they heard in so many movies. It's time to break the vicious circle.

Sydney Pollack recently passed away. He was a fine director and a rather fine actor as well. He brought out a lot in his small part. Every character in the film just looked exactly like the person should look like whom they were portraying—if that makes sense or is grammatical. I think that too often in movies the casting director is thinking of somebody from another movie when he makes his choices instead of trying to see a real person. I think that far too many Hollywood writers are guilty of using stock movie characters to hatch their own fictions instead of finding their own in the real world (defined as everything outside of movies).

I like how the movie ended; not with a shoot out but with a soliloquy delivered by Clooney. That was just a great scene and really boiled down the essence of the whole film. The woman lead counsel was a great character and they really showed her moral dilemmas. Her vulnerability was evident as she allowed herself to be consumed by the corporate ethos or putting humanity on a lower priority than the bottom line. There weren't any cartoonish bad guys in the film; as I've said before, most action movie bad guys seem less threatening than Ferris Buehler's principal. The woman lawyer was too frail to be a villain on her own; she needed the group-think of everyone associated with the business at hand which was to screw over a lot of injured people. There wasn't really one person who was the bad guy, it wasn't even one corporation. The bad guy was simply the corporation in general. The real villain was the idea that evil is when people surrender their will to the collective nature of the group.

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