Signalling the emergence of an interesting directorial vision was Michael Clayton, the debut of long time screenwriter Tony Gilroy who crafted a superior mainstream thriller concerning a high-class corporate fixer, played by old gorgeous George Clooney himself, who gets out of his depth when called in to take over from an old mentor who appears to be losing the plot.
Years after I’ve watched it, though I’m itching for a rewatch, what most sticks in my mind about the film is the way it depicts what would be abhorrent and shocking behaviour to most in what are for the most part fairly mundane ways. The shady movements of multi-national companies are depicted in normal conversation, a car blows up in the middle of a quiet field, a juxtaposition of action and surroundings which is incredibly striking and an assassination is performed in the kind of way you imagine a car mechanic doing an oil change, effecient, clean, precise and all the more disturbing for it, Gilroy knowing this and rinsing every last bit of tension he can.
We do also have a pretty bloody amazing cast. Clooney is his dependable best and is unselfsish, letting others take the spotlight on many occasions, most notably with Tilda Swinton in her Oscar winning performance as a woman struggling to deal with an aggressively masculine world but in public matching them pound-for-pound. Along with Tom Wilkinson and one of the last pieces of work by Sydney Pollack, its high-class all the way, in front of the camera and behind.
He may be an aquired taste but for some Will Ferrell can’t put many feet wrong. His collabrations with Adam McKay have resulted in some of his most popular efforts, most notably Anchorman, but this is a film which seemed to go a little under the radar and while it may not hit the sublime heights of their first work together, there’s still plenty to recommend it.
Acting as a surprisingly effective foil for Ferrell is Mark Wahlberg, an actor who is very careful with his choices and only makes a fool
out of himself around filmmakers he trusts but here, he’s great as part of a buddy team who are each a little bit straight man, a little
bit manic. His busting down doors attitude plays well with Ferrell’s pen pusher and like the best buddy cop movies, they both learn from each other.
As well as the central duo, we also get some great work from Samuel L Jackson and The Rock who make a fantastic extended cameo duo in the first act of the film, Steve Coogan being his usual slimey self as a dodgy corporate man and Michael Keaton who gets a rare (at least these days) chance to make an impression in a big-screen comedy and steals a few scenes under Ferrell’s nose.
While the political hectoring of the film feels too much at odds with much of the comedy, a post-credits sequence at the end in particular feeling a step too far, there’s enough laughs and action in here to justify the runtime and deserves more of a look than it feels like it has had thus far.