Directed by Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton is a superb thriller that tells the story of its title character (played extremely well by George Clooney). Clayton, a recovering gambling addict, makes a very good living as a 'fixer' for a prestigious New York City law firm, Kenner, Bach And Leeden, which caters to large corporate clients. What this means, essentially, is that he's the man responsible for cleaning up the dirty cases that the other lawyers in the film don't have the time, inclination or sometimes the skill to take care of on their own. Clayton looks down upon himself, however, and he takes no satisfaction in this work, looking at it as little more than janitorial duties. To make matters worse, Clayton's home life is a bit of a mess. His one brother is a police officer, the other is a gambling addict with massive debt problems and as such, he doesn't get along with either of them. He also has to deal with the stress of being a single parent.
Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a senior partner in the firm, has been representing the U-North Chemical Corporation for over half a decade now, in case that claims the chemical giant willingly sold products to farmers around America that cause cancer. Just as it looks like Edens is going to win the case for his client, the manic depressive attorny stops taking his medication and suffers a horrendous breakdown. This sends a massive ripple effect through the firm, and obviously, through the client as well. The firm calls Clayton in to head to Wisconsin and figure out what exactly happened to Edens and how to control him before he lets confidential information out to the press, which would in turn destroy U-North. As Clayton tries to sort out this mess he finds himself on the receiving end of pressure from U-North's director, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). Unfortunately, the more Clayton learns about the case, the more dangerous his situation becomes.
Shot in an appropriately bleak manner, Michael Clayton sets itself up to rely more heavily on its performances and its script than flashy cinematography or overpowering visuals but it's certainly a well made film from a technical standpoint. The camera work (courtesy of Oscar winning director of photography Robert Elswit) does a great job of capturing the tension and the encroaching claustrophobia that Clayton experiences as he becomes more and more mired in the situation and the visuals and the score from James Newton Howard compliments the look and feel of the picture almost perfectly.
Michael Clayton was nominated for seven Academy Awards and Tilda Swinton managed to take home one of those (for Best Supporting Actress), and deservingly so as she's excellent in her part. Her work, as well as Clooney's excellent turn as Clayton, keeps this film anchored within the realm of believability and supporting efforts from the sympathetic Wilkinson and from Sydney Pollack (who also co-produced the film) as one of the film's lead partners really do a great job of delivering exactly the kind of realistic performances a film like this needs to work.
Writer/director Tony Gilroy has crafted a very tight and well written film, which is complimented nicely by his brother John Gilroy's lean editing. The film always stays on track, never meandering with needless subplots but at the same time, delivering plenty of interesting character development along the way, particularly the growth we see in Clayton and Edens as they both wrestle with the moral decisions that their respective careers force them to make. On the opposite side of the coin is Crowder, a surprisingly human and at times genuinely sympathetic 'villain.' Everything that these core characters go through in the picture leads up to a completely satisfying conclusion, one that ties up the story nicely and which makes perfect sense considering what came before it.
Michael Clayton arrives on Blu-ray in a 1080p 2.40.1 anamorphic transfer with VC-1 encoding. While the movie looks good, it isn't reference quality. There is some noise noticeable in a few scenes and some of the fine detail goes missing in spots, particularly when the camera pulls back. That said, the film has an intentionally grainy look to it, so some of this is a stylistic choice. Regardless, this isn't a reference quality disc. It does feature pretty solid color reproduction, though the film makes use of a fairly drab palette, and it certainly looks better than its standard definition counterpart, and the black levels on this transfer are nice and strong. There aren't any compression artifacts to complain about though you won't have any trouble picking out some minor edge enhancement if you want to look for it. The image tends to be a little inconsistent, however. Some shots are sharp, detailed and almost perfect while others lose some of the fine detail and look a little murky. Again, when the film is shot this way it's hard to fault the disc for recreating that effect, but it is what it is. Michael Clayton looks good on Blu-ray, but it doesn't look amazing.
The English language 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is also quite good. Optional 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are included in French and Spanish with removable subtitles provided in English, French and Spanish. The English track is pretty solid for what it is. This isn't a slam-bang action film, instead it's more of a dialogue intensive thriller so don't go into this one expecting a full on aural assault. There isn't a ton of channel separation but it's there when it needs to be as is rear channel usage. The score sounds nice and clear and the dialogue stays crisp throughout. Levels are well balanced from start to finish and there aren't any distortion or hiss problems to report. Bass response is good but could have been a little stronger in spots. A lossless audio mix would have certainly been very welcome and the lack of a TrueHD track on an Oscar nominated film such as this is a little surprising, but what's here sounds good even if it could have sounded better.
Warner Brothers has ported over the supplements from their standard definition release for this Blu-ray disc, but sadly they don't amount to all that much.
First up is a commentary track with director Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy, which includes optional French subtitles. Sadly, this isn't a particularly interesting discussion as Tony spends far too much time simply praising the film and the various people who helped him make it rather than telling us about what he did and why he did it. There are also a few moments of dead silence, which pulls us out of the talk a little bit. That said, they do discuss some of the stylistic choices seen in the picture and give us some brief production stories but really, a lot of what we hear on this track is self congratulations and the filmmaker's simply telling us what we're seeing on the screen.
Other than that, there are six minutes worth of deleted scenes included here as well, presented in standard definition and available with or without optional commentary from the two Gilroy brothers, who essentially explain why this material was cut out of the picture. In pretty much every case, it was for pacing reasons. It's nice to see this material here but none of it really alters the film all that much and it's fairly inconsequential though it's mildly interesting to see Jennifer Ehle pop up here as the token love interest. Menus and chapter selection are also included.
Warner Brothers' Blu-ray release of Michael Clayton comes recommended on the strength of the picture rather than on the strength of the release as a whole. The audio and video are adequate but could have been improved upon and the supplements are disappointing. The film itself, however, is excellent. It's very well directed and very well acted and it proves to be a suspenseful and expertly made picture that's completely deserving of the accolades that have been hoisted upon it by fans and critics alike.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.