Michael Clayton is another in a long line of films this year that I liked but didn’t love. It’s billed as a legal/ mystery thriller but in reality it’s more of a character drama. If anything the film is too character-driven because the plot is distressingly straight forward. But as a film that depends heavily on its characters it’s getting buzz for acting nominations for Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and George Clooney and all three would be fine choices. I loved Wilkinson as a trial attorney who has an ill-timed mental breakdown and pang of conscience. Swinton gets us to empathize with the bad guy; we see her smooth statements in front of the press and the courtroom but we are also treated to her nervous preparations in front of her bathroom mirror. I found Swinton’s character the most interesting and she steals several scenes, but not in the over-the-top emotional manner that usually land actors Oscar nominations. Her sitting in the bathroom stall literally sweating out a phone call is the image that has stayed with me the most from the film. And Clooney just plain knows how to carry a movie.

In the end, though, the plot has to pull in the viewer as well and I just wasn’t sucked in. Plus a major action in the story is that Michael decides to get out of his car right when his car explodes… just to pet some horses? What the hell? The worst is that, reading online later, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it (the three horses were an image from the book his son was trying to get him to read) but the film doesn’t explain that clearly enough. Sometimes these coincidences don’t bother me in movies and sometimes they do; this time it really did. Good enough to rent, but not good enough to feature predominately on Oscar night. However if the so-called contenders that are still to come disappoint I reserve the right to come back here to champion Wilkinson and Swinton.

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