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.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

One Comment

  1. Interesting, Matt.

    Michael Clayton is the only movie nominated in the Best Picture and Director categories that I haven’t seen, and yours is the first negative review I’ve seen. I had been looking forward to it and now I admit I’m more intrigued than ever.

    Having not seen this specific use of it, I agree with you in general that showing a late scene first MAY diminish the suspense, but I have also seen it effectively increase suspense, such as the first scene of One Hour Photo when we see Robin Williams’ character in a police interrogation room before the rest of the movie shows how he got there.

    Because we are not told what he will be arrested for the entire movie has an impending sense of dread because we imagine the worst about to happen at any turn, knowing that at any moment he might do something worthy of arrest. The anticipation increases the suspense, like a horror movie in which you know people are going to die but never know when.

    It’s too bad if Michael Clayton did it badly. But one thing I definitely object to is your implication that Juno is worth of any awards. The nomination of Ellen Page individually doesn’t offend me but the idea that this relentlessly cute triffle is one of the best five films of the year is the most damning indictment of the Academy.

    I don’t deny that I laughed while the movie lasted, thanks mostly to Jason Bateman and Michael Cera’s talent at throwing away jokes under their breath, but the more I think back on the movie the more I dislike it. I rate Diablo Cody somewhere between Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino on the inhumane dialogometer (though Rian Johnson somehow pulled off highly mannered dialogue in Brick where all others except the Coens fail).

    Ellen Page is commendable for making it sound like her own voice, but (perhaps because of the contrast with her) Cody’s unactable script sounded false off of everyone else’s lips. Not to mention all the embarrassingly awkward name-drops of movies and music that was irrelevant to the plot or characters. And even Page, for all her innate sarcasm, couldn’t muster enough irony to sell the invented slang, which is another thing the Coens are past masters of writing to sound natural: “What’s the rumpus?” sounds immediately authentic, unlike “Wizard!”

    Excuse the rant, but what can I say? You inspire me!

    Reply

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