Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy (2007)

I know how this sounds (reactionary), but I’m really starting to worry that radical chic has become so fully entrenched in mass culture that it’s not even radical anymore; it’s just chic. I’m thinking of The Insider, Syriana, and now this. Serious, sober, intelligent movies which effectively dramatize genuine, complex, preventable evils. And yet. They’re so cool, so sober, so disconcertingly sure of themselves, that they feel less like calls for change than weltschmerzy surrenders. In Chinatown, remember, Mr. Gittes spends the entire movie running around trying to save the world; it’s only in the last seconds that Polanski laughs at us for thinking anything could change. This movie, by contrast, seems to be saying, “Forget it, Michael; it’s a law firm” from frame one. And the narrative is so weirdly neat and symmetrical, the pseudo-pinko catharsis at the end so utterly predictable, that the movie itself seems like it was engineered by an evil law firm to make us believe that evil law firms are being thwarted by heroic Michael Claytons on a daily basis, so there’s nothing to worry about, just move along, nothing to see here folks. What spooks me about this movie is the way in which undigestably disgusting malfeasance is cooked into such a smooth narrative soup. Brecht would hate this movie; it’s a perfect example of what he sought to counter through the alienation effect.

I might have to become a communist!

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