Little Georgie Peorgie (I bet he loves being called that) seems to have a passion for staring in lots of films with Very Important Messages about the world we live in today. Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, The Good German, Ocean’s Twelve (message: some films suck big-time). It’s a growing trend in Hollywood, this politically aware guilt, one exemplified by the trailers preceding this week’s film - all set in Washington, with talk of ‘war’ and ‘terror’ and ‘prisoners’ and blah-de-blah-blah-blah. Yes, these things are all very important, and yes, films should be made about them. But couple this American political guilt with the disaster flicks intent on blowing up New York (oh the poignancy, but give it a rest - I am Legend, Project Cloverfield etc) and sometimes I just want to write them all a letter to explain that there are other cities, and other governments, with just as many crappy things happening to them, and within them, so for Christ’s sake move on to the Next Big Thing or at least shove some kick-ass robot toys in there so we’re not all bashing our brains out in guilty despair.
That was an unexpected tangent. What I started off trying to say was that Georgie Peorgie has done lots of serious-type films, which means he’s no longer seen as “the handsome one off ER”. Now his name can make pretentious types like me see a film without even bothering to check what it’s about. Because Georgie makes serious films about “issues”, and right now “issues” are so god-damn fashionable.
Sorry - that tangent coming back. Anyway, George plays Michael Clayton, a sort of lawyer type (in bloody New York…) who stumbles across a potentially deadly truth, unearthed by his un-hinged lawyer friend (an excellent Tom Wilkinson). Generally, films about lawyers ‘trial’ my patience because they always end up in a court room, with lots of SHOUTING and pointing, and noble jurors nodding as the hero saves the day, after spending three quarters of the film looking in files and SHOUTING at witnesses and stuff. Yawn. Thankfully, Michael Clayton keeps everything out of the court room and into semi-reality, with an icy look at the corporate world, and the relationship between law firm and client (ie; money).
What Michael Clayton does is dodge and weave around the usual law-based clichés, and instead delivers a remarkably fresh take on the genre. It’s almost a mystery / thriller, with some modern guilt and musings on life’s purpose thrown in. Georgie heads up the fresh feel by playing Clayton with a huge dollop of hood-eyed woe and misery. The trade-mark smile and twinkly eyes hardly make an appearance. He is instead angry, brow-beaten, and mad keen on horses (you’ll get it). He acts his little chops off at times, mostly through the eyes, and is as ever a strong, watchable lead. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, though, with Tom Wilkinson, as mentioned, a vivid spark in the corporate gloom, Tilda Swinton, whose nervous cracks glimmer beautifully through her icy exterior, and a host of rent-a-law-firm-business-types to fill in the scenery.
For all its freshness, however, it’s a great shame that the film falls back on old favourites towards the end, with the hero making a stand, George cracking into his very familiar way of speaking. Where he pauses. Just to make his sentences feel. Important. All the while tipping his head to one side with that sly twinkle in his eyes. It doesn’t happen much, but it falls just as the film falls - lazily at the climax. It’s also a shame that Tilda Swinton’s character is bumped from being an interesting human (sweat patches of fear, practiced speeches) to token Evil Corporation Head. There’s also the questionable solutions her company finds to certain “problems” that tars over the otherwise realistic tones.
However, this doesn’t mean Michael Clayton wasn’t engaging, exciting, and thought-provoking without shoving “issues” in your face every five seconds. Georgie plays it well, and though it’s not as clever and important as its pretentious “look at me acting” end credit sequence, Clayton still racks up a CF2 for entertaining me in a different way. And all that without any robots too. Impressive.