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Warner Home Video presents
"I'm not a miracle worker. I'm a janitor."
DVD ReviewTony Gilroy has gone to school on the great paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, movies like The Parallax View and All the President's Men, and has proved himself a virtuoso of a student. He established his bona fides in the genre as the screenwriter on the Bourne trilogy, and extends his range here, with his directorial debut. Certainly some sizable section of the audience, not weaned on these sorts of pictures, has a low tolerance for them—lots of Michael Clayton is little more than people exchanging information in rooms, and it's the kind of movie that punishes you with incomprehension if you let your attention flag for just a couple of minutes. But you're going to want to hang in there, because it's worth it.
So many of the classic thrillers are about danger coming from high places, and this movie ratifies all of our worst fears and darkest suspicions about corporate America. George Clooney of course stars in the title role—Michael works for a white shoe law firm, but his pedigree and portfolio are dramatically different from those of the Ivy League sorts who represent Fortune 500 companies and are the public face of the firm. Clayton is decidedly more working class, and he's a fixer—the guy who'll get your high school son sprung if he crashed the Beemer after chugging a few in the parking lot, or who will paper things over with I.N.S. about the sketchy green-card status of your new gardener. He's a shadowy figure, kind of a legal garbageman—and when you represent huge corporations who want to maximize profits and see class-action suits go away, there's no shortage of garbage. The firm has a big problem, because one of its own is going native—Tom Wilkinson plays a leading litigator who goes off his meds, but has a grain of truth to his paranoiac rantings, and is ready to blow the whistle on United Northfield, or U-North, one of the firm's biggest clients. The conglomerate (very much in the Archer Daniels Midland mode) faces a $3 billion suit over a pesticide that may in fact be responsible for hundreds of deaths, and the suit has been dragging on, with hundreds of lawyers logging thousands of billable hours. Wilkinson's character goes bonkers and strips naked during a deposition; Clayton swoops in to clean up the mess.
Things are, inevitably, much more complicated and sinister than they seem at first blush, and the case pushes Clayton's buttons—something ain't right and he wants to know what it is, and he's up against it still more because his pet project, a restaurant he's opened with his brother, is going belly up. Certainly one of the pleasures of a film like this is following its serpentine path, and you won't want me to spoil the journey for you; but I am happy to report that you'll find yourself in most capable hands. Gilroy is a surprisingly fluid filmmaker, especially for a first-timer; he's also got a keen visual sense and is content to tell his story with pictures, something you don't always see in screenwriters who get to direct their own stuff. He's most ably aided by Robert Elswit, whose cinematography recalls that of Gordon Willis's from his most fertile period—he's worked with Clooney before (on Good Night, and Good Luck.), and with his work here in conjunction with his effort on There Will Be Blood, nobody may have had a better 2007 than anyone else in the business, on either side of the lens.
Clooney brings his stalwart movie star presence, and he's pretty great here—a huge amount of the movie is hoisted onto his shoulders, and it's hard to imagine the film working without an actor of his stature and talent in the lead. Wilkinson's performance has more than a little Howard Beale in it, wavering between speaking truth to power and being round-the-bend, barking mad—as with Clooney, Wilkinson heads a very short list of actors who could have possibly pulled off this role. Tilda Swinton's Oscar was undoubtedly well deserved—as lead counsel for U-North, she shows us both her studied public face and the roiling anxiety and relentless preparation that make those dog-and-pony shows possible. And I will confess to a particular weakness for Sydney Pollack, who roars through his scenes as the law firm's managing partner—everybody hates lawyers except for their own, and Pollack gets at exactly why.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Very strong transfer for Elswit's exceptional work. The palette of the movie is quite somber, but the grays are rendered with great delicacy; the only downside is that some of the daylight scenes can look almost blown out.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: James Newton Howard's score meshes well with the dour quality of much of the action, and the music, dialogue and f/x are well balanced, both on the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, though things can sound a little overly Foleyed now and again.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Brave One, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, State of Play, 10,000 B.C., Funny Games, Get Smart
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Tony Gilroy, editor John Gilroy
Extras Review: The writer/director is joined by his editor (also his brother) on a sharp commentary track—they talk about the dangers of these descending into nothing but a lovefest, and they're occasionally guilty, but overall this is a strong effort, going over the years of development, landing the big fish with Clooney, and the particular challenges of shooting a big-time film on a relatively modest budget. They also provide optional commentary over the package (5m:35s) of three deleted scenes, two of which are procedural in nature, with the other showing us Michael's on-the-sly office romance—nothing wrong with any of them, which seem to have been rightly removed for purposes of pacing.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIn the tradition of great period pictures like The Conversation, both in its filmmaking style and its justifiable paranoia, this is a terrific and taut thriller, chock full of suspense and cagey performances.
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