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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