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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton claims to be a janitor because he cleans up messes. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen any janitors who ever looked like Michael Clayton because if I did I’m sure my water would break and I’d need his help immediately. The sad part is, I’m not pregnant, so I’d no doubt be mortally embarrassed, but I’m sure I’d at least get his attention, and if that’s what it takes to get Michael Clayton’s eye then it would be worth it.

It’s got to be a whole lot less horrible of an embarrassment than what transpires in the film named after this hot-shot “fixer-up”, Michael Clayton, played by the astoundingly handsome George Clooney (Ocean’s 13). In the movie, Michael is called in by his employer, the prestigious New York law firm of Kenner, Bach and Ledeen to clean up a serious problem in Minneapolis. It’s in Minneapolis that the brilliant company litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson; Cassandra’s Dream) has had a mental breakdown and stripped off his clothing during a taped deposition in a case he had been defending for U-North Agrochemical for the last six years. The class action suit was just at the precipice of either resolving with a settlement or going to a contentious jury trial, which could result in a $3 billion penalty against the company should the firm lose.

Oy! Now, let me just stop here and say that the first mistake U-North did was going to a firm called Kenner, Bach and Ledeen and agreeing to run with a chief attorney on the case named Edens. I know it sounds wrong to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway. As my grandmother Cecil Lowenstein would swear on her secret kügel recipe, if you want a great attorney, you want a Balmalocha, and if he doesn’t know what a Balmalocha is then he isn’t one. She used to tuck me in at night and sing me to sleep with her lullaby “Chim-chimney, chim-chimney, chim-chim-churoo, if you need a lawyer, make sure he’s a Jew”. If the folks at U-North had my Bubbeheh on their team I guarantee you this case would have been wrapped up in less than two weeks; they wouldn’t have paid out a dime other than to give all the plaintiffs a nice bowl of her chicken soup and maybe a brisket to make them feel better. Those claims of U-North selling cancer-causing pesticides? All meshugass from who knows where, but I am digressing, so let’s concentrate on the real movie, even though it is a vast conspiracy of goys behaving badly.

So once Arthur showed himself to be meshugeneh, he also started screaming that he could prove that U-North was guilty of all the charges against them. That’s the “problem” Michael was called in to fix. It’s never good when the lawyer representing the pesticide pushing company starts screaming that the weed-killer is a kid-killer as well.

In the midst of taking care of Arthur, Clayton is also supposed to smooth things over with U-North’s CEO, the ice queen Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). What Michael doesn’t know is that Crowder has already made up her mind that he is not up to the task of fixing things, and so she has worked out her own plan of action, which is only going to make things more…complicated.

Not enough troubles for Michael to handle? No problem. His personal life is also going to Hell at high speed while this professional crisis is unfolding. His alcoholic younger brother Tim has messed up big time and now the restaurant they co-owned together has closed and all its debts are way past due. An auction to recoup on the furnishings and fixtures isn’t going to come close to covering the actual cost they paid for the items and Tim is nowhere to be found. Michael’s own gambling addiction continues to put him even further into debt, sending collection people with brass knuckles his way; meanwhile, his ex-wife is not happy with his shaky parenting skills, and his own ten-year-old son Henry (Austin Williams; The Good Shepherd) is none too impressed with his Dad’s lame attempts at bonding either. On top of all this, Michael hears word that Kenner, Bach and Ledeen is in hush-hush talks to merge with a British firm, which could well leave the “indispensible” Michael Clayton dispersible and unemployed.

If you are thinking that a movie about lawyers yammering on over a legal case sounds about as exciting as watching George W spend two hours explaining the significance of belly-button lint then you couldn’t be more wrong thanks to the incredible writing of Tony Gilroy, who also directs. Gilroy is responsible for writing all three films of the Bourne trilogy (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum) and he breathes excitement into the simplest of scenarios. He balances the growing intensity of Michael’s out-of-control personal life against the spiraling events in the legal case and asks the audience to choose in its own mind where one’s loyalties and commitments should lie. Is a long-time, loyal friend in the throes of a mental breakdown more or less important than a distant, alcoholic brother? How important is time with your child when you could be jeopardizing your job and your ability to provide for that child? Just how much of your soul are you willing to sell for $3 billion?

Throw in a murder halfway through the crises du jour and the stakes are heightened to a fever pitch of Bourne dimensions. Clayton realizes that in addition to all of his other worries he now faces the very real possibility that his own life may be in danger and the only way he will ever be safe is to expose the truth that Arthur uncovered. What a shande! In my version, Michael would have packed up little Henry and gone to the Cayman Islands until the merde hit the fan and everything was back to being copacetic, janitor or no janitor.

Since this isn’t my version, however, a whole lot of drama ensues that includes an assassination attempt, a dramatic expose, and a clever resolution to the corporate malfeasance that will leave you smiling with satisfaction. Fulfillment, too, is extended all the way to the end credits, which uniquely include a split screen, with Clooney/Clayton’s close-up shot in a continual sequence for a full two minutes as he rides away in a cab at the resolution of the case. While I’ve never considered Clooney an outstanding actor, here is one sequence where he manages, without saying a word, to project the full range of emotions in response to what he has just experienced. Such a face! My Bubbeheh would pinch his cheeks and thank him for making such a nice movie. Me? I might pinch a tad lower, and then we’d all be smiling.

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