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Popping Mushrooms in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton (2007) December 24, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Written and directed by Tony Gilroy
Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack

In possibly the uncanniest moment to remind me of Tarkovsky’s horses, George Clooney steps out of his car to gaze at three horses out on the roadside. Coming from an ugly argument with a self-important client who has hit-and-ran a pedestrian, he seeks their communicative and comforting eyes for a minute of peace, he stares at them like a child asking for an embrace, what it means becomes unnecessary, because then his parked car explodes, he looks back, shocked, the horses flee, and it explodes again, he runs and throws his things in the fire, and escapes, carrying in his mind the weight of his case with a multibillion dollar firm and the death of his colleague connected to it.

Suffice it to say that that is the peak of this film’s meandering exercises. Gilroy is used to writing thrillers, penning the three installments of the Bourne series, and as he puts himself in full control as director, he still has that biting coldness of an inconsolable man, setting this deftly-paced thriller in unstoppable flare. Like a bonfire with enough driftwood to burn, it flames rewardingly in the end; what happens in between while you are watching it becomes the most crucial. With Gilroy borrowing a backdrop from Grisham, it interests me how American film and TV are peppered by legal dramas, that while it informs an ordinary citizen his rights and duties, it also employs a lot of attorneys and law firms, brainstorming on another TV series or getting consulted for a courtroom drama to be produced by Warner. Gilroy’s hands are evident in every scene of Michael Clayton, from its hard-boiled direction to the clever editing (done by his younger brother John), it proves a promising turn for him. The unconventional cutting of supposedly long dialogues, interspersed with still images or previous undertakings of the character, notably that scene when Tilda Swinton rehearses her interview, pokes suspense effectively. The square off near the final scene is all I’ve been waiting for, what with Swinton’s infectious nervousness and Clooney’s wicked charm, it is a bomb that explodes with the quietest but the most destructive sound, its serious threads weaving a confusingly impressive whole. Clooney gives an arguably vulnerable performance – – solid if I may be allowed to change my mind – – but that wouldn’t change the fact that his new direction as a filmmaker and a brilliant actor is earning him a great deal of respect; late, of course, has always been better than never. Going back, those horses in the beginning – – the savior of Clayton’s life – – are as strange as they are indescribably well-placed.

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