-- Ben Affleck in a recent interview.
Don't you just hate it when it seems like any blog you go to is somebody bitching and moaning about something that's wrong? Isn't it tiring to find, in post after post, so many island dictatorships of the blogosphere sounding so unhappy? Sometimes the web looks to me like a gnarly tangle of rants and ravings from the universe of the dissatisfied.
Not wanting to contribute to this constant nabobbing of negativity, I like to think of myself as a glass half-full, pony-person kind of guy, which is why I was brought up short when I glanced at one of my sidebars and noted the tenor of my last few blog posts: This Cliche Must Die, When Sex Isn't Sexy, The Movie That Isn't There... It's like an invasion of the upbeat-snatchers; evidently even I've gone all Andy Rooney lately, dissing and diatribing just like all the other gloomy guses.
Well, enough of that. As an antidote to the anti- in the atmosphere, let me now unreservedly praise something: I've just seen The Best Movie of the Year So Far That's Not a Romantic Comedy. And weird to say, given as it's such a dark story in all its fundamentals, but Michael Clayton is ultimately an upper. We go to the movies largely as a means to having our feelings, and in the end, despite the harrowing journey it takes to get there, this picture is about as feel-good as you'll find in the multiplexes these days. It's a movie that's very much grounded in reality, and yet it offers hope. You remember hope.
Hope -- and goodness and heroism and all that high road stuff -- seems to mostly be the provence of the supernatural this season. As Alessandra Stanley noted in today's NY Times, half of what's presently on TV features the cavalry coming to the rescue from heavenly or sci-fi realms: magically empowered people bringing the dead back to life, returning errant lost souls to Hell, using their super-skills to save the cheerleader and the world. Sad but true -- given the grim and daily more dire real world situation our powers-that-be have put us in, apparently the only way we'll buy a story with an epic happy ending is when there's higher powers on tap, to set everything right.
Maybe that's why, in the midst of all these heroic vampires, avenging angels and timely time-surfers, the presence of a bracingly human human being as hero feels so refreshing. Though his is actually an old-fashioned story, Michael Clayton, as played by George Clooney doing the best work in his career thus far, is a contemporary prototype: he starts out a credibly, painfully flawed and morally compromised company guy. That he goes up against "the way things are" in time-honored David v. Goliath tradition has a peculiarly inspiring resonance just now. At a cultural moment when corporate deceit and indecency seems to rule the day, there's a welcome, near-forgotten thrill in seeing -- in the very back room belly of the corporation beast -- human decency triumph.
Wouldn't work if it weren't so deftly done. Writer-director Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton is born of a celebrated writing dynasty, and it wasn't merely my being a fan of the Bourne franchise that got my antennae up when this pic came to town; when I note Sydney Pollack, Steven Soderbergh and Anthony Minghella joining forces to get a project produced, I figure the script can't be all that shabby. And you writers out there -- be you into the legal thriller genre and George's good looks or not -- would be well-advised to give this one some study.
I'll be going back for a second look, ASAP, to check out the wiring and insulation on what seems like an improbably jerry-rigged rocket of a screenplay. It's got a first act that felt at moments so confusing I didn't understand what the hell was going on -- but I didn't care, since what I wasn't comprehending was so damned entertaining. You trust Gilroy implicitly (he's a natural director, with an unerring instinct for where to put you in a scene) even if you're lost.
As Gilroy admits in this illuminating interview, a lot of what makes Clayton work is exactly what might ordinarily get "fixed" in development:
Q: Was it a trick to get the ambiguous stuff into this movie?
A: That's an interesting question. You wanna know the trick? The trick was to hang tough with it and not bring to bear all the things that you're trained to do in [regular studio rewrite/script work]. I'm trained to button scenes and round things off, and I get rewarded for doing that. And [in Michael Clayton] you have to keep navigating and be brave.
What he said. It is a brave script in the chances it takes, and even in its deliverance of such a bold, immensely satisfying climax. I can't remember the last movie I saw that's had me replaying its ending so many times in my head, savoring each detail. So I especially look forward to seeing anew how it all got setup from the top.
The performances -- more examples of going against the grain, in that the emotionality of the piece is wonderfully modulated to avoid melodrama and pyrotechnics, banking on the audience's intelligence for a change -- are uniformly stunning. So it's no long limb to traverse as I claim early Oscar nom slots for Clooney, Wilkinson and a killer Tilda Swinton; Gilroy, too, should be seeing February recognitions, if there really is any justice in the world. The big trick of Michael Clayton is that it gets you to believe there might be.
Meanwhile, speaking of bright spots in the blogosphere: friend Kristen Havens has just launched a new blog that's a study in positivity. Highlighting how the blogging world and the publishing world connect, The Post Pub celebrates writing and reading. Kristen has seen fit (perhaps it's a fit of madness) to kick things into gear by posting an interview with yours truly, so if you'd like to continue your procrastinating (hey, what else could you be doing here?!), come have a look.