'Michael Clayton' a cleverly crafted moral fable

Film: 'Michael Clayton'; Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack; Director: Tony Gilroy; Rating:***

Saturday, February 23, 2008 | 3:40:01 PM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Film: 'Michael Clayton'; Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack; Director: Tony Gilroy; Rating:***

There is an arresting interlude in the first 40 minutes of this engaging, though not gripping, drama on legalese (which isn't to say it's a courtroom drama) where that interesting and charismatic actor George Clooney drives his fantasy-ridden son to school.

You can tell from Clooney's responses to his little son's warbling narration that he is detached, if not entirely disinterested in his 'beta's bubble baat' (kiddish prattle). But he also wants to be a good and attentive father.

He makes an effort.

That attempt at sincerity in dealing with the essentially slippery world of legalese shines through in Michael Clayton's compromised but nonetheless upright character as he takes on the role of a legal mediator, or the 'janitor' as he calls himself.

That sweeping statement slips slyly into the complex but comfortably casual narrative. Bouts of dark humour punctuate Michael Clayton's journey from fixing hit-and-run cases to going straight into a billion-dollar suite where a manic-depressive fellow-lawyer walks away from defending those whom he sees as the clowns-and-villains rather than the casualties of the legal system.

As the traumatized, torn and finally ripped-apart lawyer Arthur Edens chooses to battle the demons within, rather than the morally ambiguous litigants in the courtroom, Tom Wilkinson emerges with a performance that concretises the professional dilemmas of any successful corporate man of today. He's 'Everyman', and yet no one whom you'd like to be with, or to be.

Pander to the posh or perish. This is the one theme that emerges from this slightly stirring drama of roomy resonance that steers miraculously clear of pronouncing a final verdict on the legal system.

Everyone in the film, including Clayton's son, is troubled and anxious. Clooney as Clayton remains outwardly calm, almost imperturbable. What's he thinking? We can only guess what's going on his sharp mind. Like Will Smith in the bizarre but brilliant 'I Am Legend', George Clooney is a loner fighting a system that has long ceased to make sense to the conscientious.

Tilda Swinson as a lawyer grappling corruption in the boardroom and her cold sweat in the bathroom maps out her inner world with a face that renders itself defiantly well to the arching skyscrapers of New York.

It's a cleverly crafted moral fable, though the craft never shows in the outer weave of the narration. The storytelling is as effective as a bus ride through the seamy side of a tourist town.

You get a good view. But you don't need to get too involved with the problems of the people who populate the snarled world of Michael Clayton.

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