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Review: Michael Clayton

As lidocafe has already reported on her blog, we had an adventure even getting to see this movie. Ms Lido and I have what seems to be a developing habit of going to Saturday afternoon matinees, and we met at the local grande cineplex only to discover that it had cancelled the 1:00 pm showing of this movie. So we leapt into my golden chariot and sped halfway across town to another, smaller, plex where it was on, fortunately at what we thought was 20 minutes later than our original locale. In fact, it was only 10 minutes later, but we made it on-time, even though I absent-mindedly turned onto the Pat Bay Highway instead of doing the Saanich Rd jog, which would have cut a few minutes off our time, and despite the best efforts of the teenage popcorn vendor who moved as slowly as thick molasses. We caught the tail-end of the last preview as we plopped into our seats, so that was all right.

The movie was worth the trouble. This was the best evil-corporation thriller since The Insider, and more tense, rather more in the vein of The Firm, but more intelligent. The narrative was a masterpiece of "show-not-tell," requiring the audience to pay attention, piece together fragments of story. All the performances were unshowy but equally intelligent, from the increasingly interesting George Clooney to the always fascinating Tilda Swinton, playing a tightly wound, remarkably cold-blooded corporate lawyer, and Tom Wilkinson doing a very complex turn as an "is he crazy or not" whistle-blower. I love it when acting comes from behind the eyes rather than the front of the screen, and all three actors in this case demonstrated controlled internalization to a marvellous degree. There's a scene where George is driving with his young son beside him, controlled rage flashing on and off in his face, that created its own kind of tension. Tom Wilkinson appears to be having a breakdown, then suddenly focusses sharply and comes out with a completely "on," completely sane speech that makes you re-evaluate everything he's said or done before.

One thing I liked about this movie, after the fun of the suspense and the pleasure of watching a thoroughly adult, well-made thriller, was an interesting subtext about the value of family and friends. You leave it not so much chilled by the evil, faceless global corporation, as warmed by the power of human connections. Michael Clayton the character succeeds through his own intelligence but also because he doesn't give up faith in his family and friends, nor they in him.

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