Michael Clayton

As the applause died down and the credits rolled on the showing of Michael Clayton I attended tonight, I remembered that at Rotten Tomatoes the movie is currently enjoying a 90% percent “fresh” rating. For folks like me who think too much about these things, that number, 90, stuck out weird. It’s just too close to 100. 85, I know that’s going to be a pretty good movie, since a movie with an 85 obviously doesn’t appeal to absolutely everyone. But 90? That means that almost everyone liked it, except one or two people who didn’t. And after watching the movie (I intentionally did not read any of the reviews beforehand, as I didn’t want to know anything about it) I just had to find out who watched this movie, in a marketplace otherwise utterly devoid of intelligent, well-crafted, well-executed, adult entertainment, and said “feh.”

Rotten Tomatoes found two in their “Cream of the Crop” section — Jan Stuart seems to have been legitimately (slightly) disappointed, but the other negative review is by Rex Reed, who seems to be a total fucking moron.

Reed strongly dislikes Michael Clayton because it’s far too complicated for his little brain to follow, and also because it stars George Clooney, who Reed seems to dislike because he’s popular. But it’s not just Michael Clayton, Reed also found the Bourne movies (also written by Tony Gilroy, who wrote and directed Clayton) terribly confusing as well. Gee, if poor little Rex Reed gets too confused when he goes to the movies, perhaps he should do himself a favor and stay home.

He says that Gilroy’s writing and direction is illogical and incoherent, and then goes on at length about a minor story point that he, personally, knows to be at odds with how he and his friends experience the real world. Then he describes the plot of a movie that sounds similar to Michael Clayton, but is, in fact, not. Reed declares a total lack of understanding regarding a plot point that is given about twenty minutes of careful, step-by-step setup and development. Reading the text more closely, the only conclusion I could come to is that Reed did not actually finish watching the movie — rather, he checked out, or stormed out in a huff (as I have heard reports of him doing before) and then wrote his review based on his little brain’s offended imagination.

As a capper, Reed runs down Clayton as being of a piece with other “George Clooney movies:” Syriana is “loathsome,” Solaris is “unsalvageable” and O Brother, Where Art Thou? is “idiotic.” Why this man is even allowed inside a movie theater is a great mystery to me.

I enjoyed the movie a lot and so did my wife, but there was one tonal note that she found lacking: the portrayal of manic depression in the character of Arthur (Tom Wilkinson, pictured above) who goes off his meds (also pictured above) and provides the movie’s inciting incident. Arthur’s rants sounded right to me (in my relatively slight experience with bipolar folk) and my wife admits that, textually, they’re correct, and even admits that Wilkinson’s performance is exemplary, but that the rhythm of speech of the manic person is a very specific, un-wavering, unforgettable thing and that the central event of the movie was tarnished slightly by what she saw as a better-done-than-usual, but-not-perfect representation of bipolar disorder. (She knows a lot about this stuff. No, she is not, herself, bipolar.) Because I have an ongoing interest in representations of mental disorders in movies, I would like to throw this discussion open: any reader with experience with bipolar sufferers have an opinion on Arthur in Michael Clayton?  And, extending from that, has anybody seen an accurate representation of bipolar disorder in a movie? 

(One bipolar friend of mine was livid at As Good As It Gets, a movie that, in her eyes, had the message of “Love Will Allow You To Stop Taking Your Meds,” which she found to be inaccurate at best and grossly irresponsible at worst.)

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21 Responses to “Michael Clayton”
  1. teamwak says:

    Looking forward to this 🙂

    I’ve always been a Clooney fan since ER, and his current streak with Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, and now this show that he is a man of strong personal conviction too. And he’s happy making big flashy pictures too. The perfect movie star.

    And Tom Wilkinson is fantastic in everything he does. One of my favourite performances is as the ganster/money lender in Shakespeare in Love.

  2. zodmicrobe says:

    I just read that Rex Reed review and am kind of blown away at how incredibly vapid, smug, anti-intellectual and just plain stupid it is. Plus, there are about 30 factual errors about the movie he got wrong. He’s not auctioning the contents of his home to make ends mee to make up for gambling debts, he was auctioning the contents of the restaurant to make up for the restaurant debts (a fact which is stated explicitly at least 6 times). Nobody but Wilkinson is shown on antidepressants. UNorth wasn’t killing its employees, it was killing people who live in small farms. And what gang that makes THE SOPRANOS look like fairies? Did Reed watch the same movie I did, or was he on hallucinogens?

    He’s a fucking moron.

    • Todd says:

      I just like the idea that the movie got, essentially, one bad review — from a man who obviously didn’t even watch the whole movie.

      • zodmicrobe says:

        …and Tyler Perry won the weekend.

        • Todd says:

          Tyler Perry may do as he chooses — what shocks me is that The Game Plan beat Michael Clayton in its third weekend! And yet, my wife and I were turned away from out first multiplex of choice (in Century City), because Michael Clayton was sold out on two screens. The business in Santa Monica was brisk and populous, but we managed to get into an 8:30 show.

    • thunder24 says:

      This is true, I’ve always loathed Rex Reed – something about him just pushes my buttons.

  3. catwalk says:

    i had a bi-polar boss who would stop taking her meds from time to time, and she made my life (as well as the lives of select few of my co-workers) a daily hell. she was a master of manipulating my co-workers and myself into battles against each other so that no one would notice what she was or was not getting done. she was intense and frantic about everything and would complain to her inner circle that she didn’t want to be on meds for the rest of her life, yet she complicated matters by occasionally taking various illegal drugs.

    compared to that woman, nicholson in agaig is an absolute prince charming.

  4. curt_holman says:

    From Wikipedia’s Red Reed entry

    Check this out:
    In April of 2005 Dennis Lim and Ed Park of the Village Voice did a study on Rex Reed’s demeaning of other countries’ movies based on their food:
    * On Oldboy: “What else can you expect from a nation weaned on kimchi, a mixture of raw garlic and cabbage buried underground until it rots, dug up from the grave and then served in earthenware pots . . . ?”
    * On Spirited Away: “No surprise coming from a people raised on chicken katsudon, an incestuous gang bang of murdered poultry and aborted chicks–the former cooped up in cramped cages, wading in their own feces.”
    * On Y Tu Mama Tambien: “Par for the course for a country loco for chimichangas, a queasy heap of shredded flesh, mummified in corn torn from the ground and then mercilessly pummeled flat–before being tortured in a bath of hot oil.”
    * On Amelie: “C’est la vie for a race responsible for croque monsieurs, a nauseating farrago of flayed pig muscle and fermented cow extract, imprisoned in a tomb of scorched bread, the whole thing drowned with bechamel sauce.”

    • moroccomole says:

      Re: From Wikipedia’s Red Reed entry

      Oh come on — that last one HAS to be a joke. Isn’t it? Yeesh.

      I’m not 100% sold on Michael Clayton — for reasons that are hard to explain without taking a trip to Spoilertown — but I very strongly liked it.

    • rennameeks says:

      Re: From Wikipedia’s Red Reed entry

      It takes less brainpower to list off foods associated with a country than it does to understand the films coming out of it.

      Rex Reed is a perfect example of why (some) film reviewers should not be allowed to express an opinion on a movie they do not understand. In his case, he should be banned from art houses, as independent films are clearly beyond the grasp of the minuscule pinprick he considers an intellect.

      • Todd says:

        Re: From Wikipedia’s Red Reed entry

        I blame the Bush administration, who have made it a national institution to keep incompetent idiots in their jobs. It’s bad enough that Reed is contemptuous of his readers, but he’s obviously contemptuous of film itself as an art form.

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: From Wikipedia’s Red Reed entry

          You can’t blame the Bush Admin. for his role in “Myra Breckinridge”, this is a not-so-closeted-Nixon man all the way. I think his IMDB bio eloquently sums the difference in atitudes up:

          “Rex currently lives in New York – at the Dakota, one of Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive apartment buildings (John Lennon was shot there). Rex also owns a spread in an elite corner of rural Connecticut, and is a single man-about-town. Movie stars may come and go, but movie reviews by Rex Reed go on forever.”

  5. craigjclark says:

    I’m planning on seeing this movie sometime this week and have studiously avoided reading any reviews as well.

    That said, I have never read Rex Reed and don’t plan on starting anytime soon.

  6. I had a similar niggling problem with Breach, which I watched on DVD this weekend. The supposedly uber-Catholic wife gets the “Glory Be” wrong, the short prayer that one typically has mastered by the age of eight.

    Although, to her credit, while getting it wrong she also does the thing Catholic schoolchildren instinctively do–crossing themselves while saying “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” even though it’s not the end of the prayer yet…

    The rest of the film was surprisingly good on that stuff, though. At first I thought Chris Cooper’s signing himself when he went into church was a bit OTT, but the character is an adult convert and I have noticed it’s a less practised gesture for them.

  7. zqadams says:

    My only experience with Rex Reed is his appearance on “The Critic,” wherein he plays himself as a total moron who takes Jay’s job, then refuses to actually review any movies because he’s too busy singing the jingle for a chewing tobacco over and over on-air. Siskel and Ebert got off easy; all they did was have a messy public breakup.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ok, bipolar here. I really enjoyed MC but was rattled by the Arthur character/events. The welcome part was that he was successful and accepted — i.e. there had been another episode 8 years earlier, he was on meds, no big deal. Nice. The tricky part is that it made a compelling case for going off meds, that it allows him to finally see the “truth” and act on things (albeit crazily). This feeds into sense that the “real” person is the one that isn’t on meds. When you’re bipolar you are constantly struggling with this tension — do the meds mask your real self (and the truth) or is the illness suggesting things that aren’t true and the meds help you get back to real self. Your wife is right, manic phases also usually come with certain speech patterns. This seemed possibly like a mixed state episode (some of the agitation but not spinning out into a psychotic bipolar 1 manic phase). Reed is an idiot. If they ever get around to making “Daughter of The Queen of Sheba” (based on J Lyden’s memoir about her bipolar mother, maybe starring Meryl Streep) he will probably hate it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Bipolar view

    The odd manic speech mannerisms would be difficult to replicate in the film and would distract from the portrayal of Arthur as a intelligent man and a sympathetic character.
    For the sake of art (and to make his character more accessible) they have left this out of the movie.

    For my own part, I know that I only had the speech mannerisms during part of my big manic episode.I know this because I was aware that my brain was going 100 miles an hour at one point and no one could keep up. My theory of everything was explained in 5 minutes.
    Needless to say this would not work in a movie where you have to understand what people have to say. Most of the time I spoke in a normal way.

    There were times when I found myself having deja vu watching Arthur, particularly the scene where he wanders out to Times Square to stare at at one of those electronic billboards for UNorth. I had periods when I saw advertising as having a message for me, and me alone, and Wilkinson seemed to convey in his face, even though there is no dialog.

    Arthur broke down under the stress of a horrible working environment which was very similar to my own experinece. I can also relate to the crush he has on Anna and his view of her as some sort of holy person. Overall, I felt the movie really got bipolar right, at least as seen from my insider’s POV.

    It was an excellent and quite sympathetic performance by Wilkinson. It’s rare to see a movie that depicts someone with severe mental illness in such a humane way.


    • Todd says:

      Re: The Bipolar view

      The scene that hit home for me was the one in the alley where Arthur has his sack of bread. The character has been caught out being crazy, knows how bad it looks, and yet is utterly convinced of the rightness of his actions. The way Wilkinson plays the charm and effortless evasiveness of Arthur in that moment rang very true to me in regard to my dealings with manic folk.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I can’t remember the movie 100%, but I thought the point of As Good As It Gets was that love is what started him taking his meds, not stopping. The big line was: “You make me want to be a better man.”
    I think by the end of the movie he was taking his medicine.