Saturday, 20 October 2007

Tilda Swinton (pic) is Karen Crowder, the uber-baddie in Michael Clayton, a George Clooney vehicle currently in cinemas. Oldies like me will remember her especially as the lithe girl in Derek Jarman's Carravaggio. As an older woman it seems inevitable that she take on a different kind of role. She has not been prolific.

The movie picks up on a memorable scene from Pulp Fiction where Harvey Keitel played a 'fixer' called in to clean up following an accidental shooting in a car. Clooney is an everyman (even the film's name is on a 'down' curve) with financial problems related to a bar he purchased as an investment. He also gambles. He looks the part: slightly rumpled in the classic Peter Falk mode.

The aesthetics are far more interesting than the story, which follows a familiar trajectory where a large, multinational corporation involved in chemicals is accused of the deaths of some 400 individuals due to harmful side-effects of a product. A report that is central to the plot, numbered #229, details the nature of the harm caused. Swinton is legal counsel in the firm and it is her job to divert a class action suit.

Clayton (Clooney) is brought in because Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) the senior attorney for the plaintiff undressed during a briefing and, having neglected to take his medication, is in the middle of (what those in the business call) an 'episode'. He's the key to success but he's off with the fairies.

Underscoring the villany of uNorth, the chemical company, are two, very competent operatives whose intent is to erase any vestiges of the report Edens possesses.

Aesthetically, the movie is, like Clooney, muted, grey, fuzzy, 'real'. It stands in direct opposition to such (spectacularly successful) U.S. TV dramas as CSI: Miami, where the fully-saturated colours almost obviate the need for either good acting or a plot. Here, as the equally-designed Web site shows, we are in the 'real world', a locus of equal evil. The further implication is that the (usually incompetent) bad guys will be effective. People will get rubbed out, quickly and quietly.

Not even Clayton is immune, but there is space for a stunning face-off with Crowder during which the implication of her indiscretion causes her to not only tremble around the mouth but actually fall to her stockinged knees. Also, the scenes where Crowder (Swinton) is in her room preparing for the cameras and other challenges, are wonderfully imagined.

I give this an eight out of ten if only for the celebration of dullness it (happily) espouses. At last, an intelligent film about the middle class shot in a way that validates the humdrum reality of most peoples' lives. Nevertheless, the knee-jerk demonisation of big capital is not entirely satisfying. The tune may be new but the words are old hat.


John Baker said...

But didn't you think Tom Wilkinson was magnificent?

Dean said...

Yes, you're right. He is. Tremendous sense of the absurdity and reality of mental illness in some of its phases. Amazing he's not better known.

Joseph said...

Wilkinson's face and work is fairly well known; just not his name as he is rarely the first lead. Waking Ned Devine and The Full Monte were quite big here in the states in the past several years

Joseph said...
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