Oct. 24, 2007 -- New York is bursting out with one great film after another this fall, and St. Thomas, of all places, is screening two of them this week -- "Michael Clayton" and "Rendition."
Here we'll take "Michael Clayton" with George Clooney, the new politically conscious (and physically gorgeous) moral interpreter for the new millennium.
On the heels of "Syriana" and "Good Night and Good Luck," Clooney now takes on corporate power and greed. David Denby in The New Yorker calls the movie, "the latest and greatest from the George Clooney Chomskyite Pinko Factory."
He continues, "With irresistible relish, writer and director Tony Gilmore pitches us into a high-pressure world of New York law-firm shenanigans and corruption, and the talk is copious, detailed and both smart-assed and soulful. Clayton is an odd bird at a prestigious New York firm, who hasnt made partner in 15 years and never will.
"Michael is the house fixer," Denby continues. "He carries cash, deals with the cops and federal agencies, and cleans up messes. Hes the white-shoe version of the Harvey Keitel character in 'Pulp Fiction.'"
Ty Burr in the Boston Globe concurs. He says Clayton is "the guy the guy other attorneys call when their clients run someone over with their Porsches. In a firm of white-shoe lawyers, he's the one with mud on his wingtips.
"Clooney plays the character with the lived-in weariness of a man who knows he has gone as far as he's going to," Burr continues. "It's a subtle, watchful performance, but you have to pay attention to it, and to the movie. The movie's for grown-ups willing to settle in and sift the complex chess moves of legal and personal feint and counterfeint."
Clayton works for Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) head of the law firm. Roger Ebert says, "It's one of those Pollack performances that embodies authority, masculinity, intelligence and knowing the score. But one of Bach's top partners has just gone berserk, stripping naked in Milwaukee during a deposition hearing and running through a parking lot in the snow. This is Arthur Eden (Tom Wilkinson), who opens the film with a desperate voice over justifying himself to Michael.
"The video of the deposition is not a pretty sight," Ebert says. One of the people watching it in horror is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) the chief legal executive for one of Bach's most important clients, a corporation being sued for poisonous pollution."
Ebert says the superior casting gives the film much of its clout. "Swinton has been working a lot lately because of her sheer excellence; she has the same sleek grooming as Clayton," Ebert says, "the power wardrobe, every hair in place. Thinking of Clooney, Pollack, Wilkinson and Swinton, you realize how much this film benefits from its casting. Switch out those four, and the energy and tension might evaporate."
The central reality of the story is that the corporation is guilty, it is being sued for billions, the law firm knows it is guilty, it is being paid millions to run the defense, and now Edens holds the smoking gun, "And it's not quite all he's holding when he runs naked through the parking lot," Ebert says.
He isn't sure if the movie carries tremendous significance, but he was compelled to see it twice. It gets high mark from critics across the board. Ebert concludes, "I don't know what vast significance the movie has ... But I know it is just about perfect as an exercise in the genre. I've seen it twice, and the second time, knowing everything that would happen, I found it just as fascinating because of how well it was all shown happening. It's not about the destination but the journey, and when the stakes become so high that lives and corporations are on the table, it's spellbinding to watch the Clooney and Swinton characters eye to eye, raising each other, both convinced that the other is bluffing.
It starts Thursday at Market Square East. It's two hours long and rated R for language, including some sexual dialogue. (One must assume the dialogue is more R-ish than Wilkinson running naked through a parking lot.)