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Michael Clayton (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 2/19/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/13/2008

Are you a stickler for details? I am. I'm a very curious and precise person and I like to know as much about something as possible. (I'm constantly my daughter for telling stories only using pronouns. I need names!) I feel that this can be especially important in movies, where more information is usually better. So, if you're like me, and like details, then you probably aren't going to like Michael Clayton.

George Clooney stars in Michael Clayton as the titular character. Michael works for a large law firm and specializes in cleaning up messes. The firm is currently defending a large corporation called U/North, which is involved in a class-action lawsuit concerning an agricultural product which was dangerous to humans. Michael is called in with Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), lead counsel on the case, becomes unstable in a meeting, strips, and runs through a parking lot. When Michael gets to Arthur, he finds that the man is very distraught and he keeps talking about a witness named Anna (Merritt Wever). Michael gets Arthur back to New York, where we see that Arthur is being tailed by two men. Soon, Arthur becomes a recluse and won't answer his phone. Michael's boss, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) expect Michael to look after Arthur, but Michael has his own problems, as he's lost a great deal of money when tried to open a bar and failed. As Arthur's behavior grows more erratic, Michael begins to realize that his friend may have turned against his own firm.

Reading the above synopsis, it sound as if Michael Clayton has a fairly firm storyline. The problem is that this story is only the skeleton of the film and there's no meat on those bones. Watching this film is like watching a television show for the first time in mid-season and trying to discern what is happening. The movie is littered with characters and subplots, but we are told next to nothing about everyone of them. At times, Michael Clayton doesn't feel like a narrative film. It has the feeling of a documentary, but the narrator has stepped away for a moment and left us in the dark.

(SPOILER ALERT!) This may seem odd, and you certainly wouldn't want to read this if you haven't seen the film, but here's a list of the things we don't learn from the film: Why Michael has the position which he does; Why he doesn't litigate anymore; The exact terms of the lawsuit; Michael and Arthur's history; Why Arthur was drawn to Anna; Anything of substance about Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton); Details about Michael's bar. (END SPOILER ALERT)

Does the lack of detail mean that Michael Clayton is unwatchable? Of course not. Again, the basic premise of the film is fairly easy to follow and the high-points (the lawsuit, Arthur's meltdown, Michael's suspicions, and the finale) all make sense. But, there is nothing supporting them, and this is where the movie will divide audiences. Some viewers will be fine with the lack of details, while others will be angered by the minimalism of the film. While some may try to paint it as such, this isn't the kind of film which separates cinephiles from the “Joe Sixpacks”. It’s not a matter of understanding the story, it’s a matter of having the patience to sit through a movie which doesn’t want to divulge any information.

Given the lack of minutiae in the script, we are left to rely on the actors to inform us. Clooney is good here, as he brings a quite intensity to the role. Tom Wilkinson is the real stand-out here, as he has several long speeches and we feel the passion in each of them. Tilda Swinton is only in a few scenes and in those, we see that her character is clearly anxious and a perfectionist. But, the fact that we never learn anything else about her truly hinders her role. The scenes with Clooney and Wilkinson are good, but the finale confrontation between Clooney and Swinton doesn’t live up to the viewer’s expectations.

Michael Clayton is the most vague non-art-house film that I've ever seen. It was written and directed by Tony Gilroy who did the screenplay adaptations for all three Bourne movies. Perhaps like Jason Bourne, Gilroy has amnesia and simply forgot all of the particulars for Michael Clayton. Whatever the case, the film is unsatisfying. It’s clear that a complex and compelling story is lurking just below the surface of this film, but Gilroy has chosen to not share it with us. If you want to see a truly impressive story of this nature, check out Damages: The Complete First Season. Otherwise, be prepared to say that word “why” a great deal.

Michael Clayton maintains a poker face on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks OK, but there are some issues. The picture is fairly sharp, but clarity certainly comes into question. Several scenes showed pixellation and blurring. The image lacked detail at times, especially in the actor’s faces. The colors are OK, but the picture is slightly dark. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Stereo effects are fine, especially in street or crowd scenes. These scenes also provide some moderate surround sound effects. There is one explosion in the film, but it only brought forth mild subwoofer effects.

The Michael Clayton DVD contains only two extra features. Writer/director Tony Gilroy and Editor John Gilroy provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY. This is a good commentary, as the siblings take a laid-back approach towards their discussion. Tony is very frank and open about his experiences directing his first film and he gives a very detailed account of how the project came together. They talk about the locations and actors, and Tony does touch on the fact that we don't get everyone's back story. The other extra is 3 ADDITIONAL SCENES, which can be viewed with or without commentary by Gilroy and Gilroy. The scenes run about 5 minutes, and only the one which shows Michael sharing an intimate moment with a co-worker is interesting. Another does elaborate on the situation with the hit-and-run driver.

Warner Home Video has also brought Michael Clayton to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc has a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. This film has a muted look throughout, and that comes through very nicely on this transfer. The intermediate process can often leave a film looking very grainy, but we only get a hint of that grain here. The image is quite sharp and clear. The colors, although, again, muted, look fine. The picture is highly detailed and does not show the pixellation which was present on the DVD transfer. Also, I noted no video noise or artifacting. The Blu-ray has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which runs at 48 kHz and 640 kbps. So, this is basically the same track as the one found on the DVD. But, when compared side-by-side, this track provided more bass response, and many scenes contain a subtle LFE rumble which add a definite edge to the movie. The dialogue is clear and audible and the New York City street scenes provide some nice surround and stereo effects.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long