George Clooney is an incredibly handsome man. He's a capable actor and has an endearing way about him onscreen. As a general rule, I love watching him and will seek him out in pretty much any capacity. Additionally, director Tony Gilroy is responsible for writing such successful suspense movies as the Bourne trilogy. So why did I nearly doze off during Michael Clayton?
Clooney does his charming, disarming best in this role, but I'm not convinced it's a great role. Gilroy wants badly for the audience to care about the titular character, but doesn't give us any reason to do so. Same goes for the plot in general. You can gather together the greatest actors around, but if we're given no way to connect to either the story or the characters, we viewers will find ourselves, well, falling asleep. To see what I mean,
Michael Clayton is a legal "janitor," someone who cleans up the evil messes of a law firm's morally questionable clients. He's a dad, a reformed gambling addict, and someone with some major money troubles. The mess he's currently cleaning up has to do with a shady "agrochemical manufacturer" company U/North that has done some kind of bad thing that is never really explained. So, there are allusions to the stakes being high, but no clear explanation for why they are that high. There are just some people (headed up by Tilda Swinton's nervous character) who will apparently stop at nothing to hide the company's wrongdoings (which, again, we don't really know anything about).
Clayton's colleague on the U/North case, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, who turns in a wonderful performance), has finally lost it — he stopped taking his meds and, after years of defending morally corrupt clients, grew a raging conscience. Clayton mildly tries to help his poor, crazy colleague while also dealing with such personal struggles as a surly son he doesn't listen to very well and trying to pay his substantial debts. Clooney is so beautiful and much of what he does in this film is subtle and understated, so kudos to him for that. Yet when a "suspenseful" drama puts people to sleep, I wish the filmmakers would have opted for not so much understatement. If only the coolest and savviest of moviegoers are able to stay awake through this film, then count me among the dumb, drooling masses.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.