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The Reeler Blog

Clayton Place

By S.T. VanAirsdale

Monday was one of those nights for George Clooney, star of the new film Michael Clayton and New Jersey's newest, most famous motorcycle crash victim. Like some A-list nightmare, the Clayton premiere thrummed with one inquiry after another about last weekend's mishap, which left Clooney's girlfriend Sarah Larson with a broken foot and the actor himself with a typically self-effacing red-carpet routine.

(L-R) Writer-director Tony Gilroy, Tilda Swinton and George Clooney at Monday's premiere of Michael Clayton at the Ziegfeld Theater (Photo: WireImage)

You can read about all that elsewhere; I experimented with the novel approach of talking about the film, a crackling legal thriller so tightly written (by Tony Gilroy, also the film's director), plotted and acted that it's a bit cold, even intimidating. Clooney portrays the title character, a "fixer" at a Manhattan law firm entrusted to clean up some of its big-money clients' messiest snafus. When a colleague (Tom Wilkinson) goes off his meds in a deposition against one of their clients -- threatening to blow the whistle on an agrochemical company defending itself against a class-action lawsuit -- Clayton must recalibrate his moral compass against the demands of a cutthroat general counsel (Tilda Swinton) and ulterior-motivated boss played by Sydney Pollack. The latter actor-director's casting is a terrific shout-out to Three Days of the Condor, The Candidate and other social-intrigue dramas of the 1970s; I asked Clooney about working with a ballbuster like Pollack in what looks and feels like his most comfortable element.

"Well, you know," he said. "That's just Sydney. Everything he does is funny as shit. He rides me like crazy! I love him, love him to death."

I also asked about his role choices as one of Hollywood's most celebrated A-listers; the complex adult drama of Michael Clayton follows the similar likes of Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, the mature comedies he's done with the Coen Brothers -- even his big sci-fi spectacle Solaris was an introspective Tarkovsky adaptation. No action films or PG-rated family fare; just the sophisticated, salt-and-pepper leading man throwback. The results speak for themselves, but had he thought about giving one of those other genres a try?

"I did that with The Peacemaker and it bombed," Clooney replied. "I'm just not that guy, I don't think. Actually, the one I just finished, Leatherheads, is a pretty commercial film -- a romantic comedy. It's very different than this, that's for sure."

There's certianly no love lost between him and Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. He was awfully hard on her in the climactic showdown at the New York Hilton, wasn't he?

Clooney shrugged, slipped his tongue back in his cheek. "She deserved it."

I caught up with Swinton to clarify, particularly with regard to Michael Clayton's more activist, underdog motifs. Did that part of the story appeal to her personally?

"To be honest, I don't feel like this is a film only about the law," Swinton told The Reeler. "Or only about agrochemical fraud. Or only about America. I think it's about inhuman acts perpetrated by human beings. It could be about anything -- corrupt people running a bakery, or the military, or even in politics, or the press. In the heart of it there is this idea of sort of a moral imperative -- that these guys are doing something bad, and who is going to be the first person to crack and do something good? But it could pizza bakers as far as I'm concerned."

Michael Clayton opens Oct. 5 in New York.

Posted at September 26, 2007 5:12 AM

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