I feel pretty inadequate as an arts journalist in saying what I’m about to say, but I also feel that honesty is always the best policy. I didn’t understand this movie. There were plot points that stood out, and facts that stood out; I got that Clooney played a lawyer, I got that he was divorced, and I got that Tom Wilkinson’s character Arthur was completely insane (and that performance, by the way, was brilliant). But I really had no idea what was going on. I don’t want to go out on too much of a limb here, opining about something I’m not too familiar with, but I feel like this movie was nominated because it’s one of those movies that was made to be nominated. I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way, either. It stars George Clooney, it’s about a complicated case, and it’s filmed pretty creatively. But I hate it when films get so self-consciously intelligent and convoluted that they leave people in the dust. It’s just not fair. I feel like someone should have told me what the film was about before I watched it.
Sometimes, the confusion is part of the art. A Clockwork Orange and The Matrix are perfect examples of this. But Michael Clayton is too mainstream a story to be told like this. I have no idea why George Clooney was standing in a field with horses, or why his son was ridiculously intelligent for his age. None of that made sense to me. Am I stupid? I certainly felt that way after watching it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love George Clooney. I think he’s a talented actor and more importantly, I think he attaches himself to extremely important works. Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck were absolutely brilliant films, and he knew that those stories were very important to tell. And O Brother, Where Art Thou? still stands out in my mind as both weird and addictively catchy. But, with the exception of his character in Syriana, I’ve never seen him dig. Like DD-L in There Will Be Blood. Like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Clooney’s characters, for the most part, are the same people. He’s good at it, and he can show a lot of emotion. Maybe it’s the scripts; I know that he’s capable of creating character depth, of peeling of layers and exposing himself as his films progress. But I’ve never really seen him do it. He sticks to suave, confident, and well-spoken.
I guess I just want to see him cry.