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A Test for the Academy: Michael Clayton

January 29th, 2008 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

When the Oscar nominees were announced, I was mildly surprised to see “Michael Clayton” among the nominees for Best Picture.

After seeing it, that mild surprise turned into astonishment. The idea that this film could win Best picture over No Country for Old Men or Juno is perplexing to me.

Michael Clayton is a well-made film that tries too hard to be a great film.

The acting performances are predictably fine—Tom Wilkinson is particularly strong in his supporting role—but the director’s decision to show a key sequence at the end of the film first robs the film of the suspense it could have had otherwise. Rather than waiting for the unexpected to happen, I sat knowing what the end result of it all was, making the film seem predictable.

In addition, the camerawork was a too self-consciously “artistic” to be effective. At points, it felt as though the director was trying to overcompensate for a weak storyline with “interesting” visuals.

As for the content itself, I left the theater wondering what Michael Clayton was about. The plot progresses in haphazard fashion, with the director throwing numerous pieces of information at the audience, only to tie them together later on. But even then, the pieces hardly form a conflict and resolution that the audience cares about much. The climactic scene is consequently remarkably unsatisfying.

In all, Michael Clayton is moderately entertaining, but hardly worth nominating for Best Picture. Whatever credibility the Academy has as a barometer for cinematic excellence is on the line this time—with two excellently crafted films in the running against George Clooney, whether it is an actual popularity contest within Hollywood will be on full display in 2008.