Friday, October 12, 2007

Michael Clayton-- The Truth can Be Adjusted

In the shadowy world of relativism, there is no darker corner than the American legal system where 'truth' can be bought, sold, adjusted, revamped, distorted, sanitized, protected, defended, attacked, and a host of other things. Americans have a difficult time understanding the advocacy system, as it is not the job of lawyers to find the truth and stand up for it. It is there job to represent their clients well and put the best possible face on their case within the limits of what is legal. It is assumed that a judge or a jury will care about the truth and sort things out, but then, perhaps you remember Jesus' judge who once asked 'What is truth?'

Sydney Pollack is a master of shadow and light, and I am not just talking about cinematography, I am talking about dealing with the shadows and light that come forth from the human soul. There is no better 'shadowland' in America to film a story about 'the truth being adjusted' than in NY city. So it was with certain expectations that I went to George Clooney's latest movie-- 'Michael Clayton' in which Pollack both directs and indeed is one of the cast as well-- Arnie, the head of the law firm for which Michael Clayton=Clooney works.

The story revolves around a giant conglomerate agra-business called UNorth that is being sued, and their law firm just happens to be the one for which Clayton works. Clayton, however, is not a trial lawyer, he is a fixer, a bag man, or as he prefers to call himself a legal janitor. It is his job to go around behind the scenes cleaning up other people's messes. Michael Clayton, then is no 'Law and Order' star in the court, he's the one behind the scenes making sure that what is done in court doesn't come unraveled elsewhere.

But this whole story is about unraveling of various sorts-- legal, psychological, emotional, even spiritual. Clayton clearly doesn't make the big money, and equally clearly his own life is frayed at various edges. He has a son, but he is no longer married. He has a brother who is an alcoholic. He has a brother on the police force struggling to make ends meet. And he himself owes the bookey, presumably mostly because of his restaurant nest egg deal went wrong, due to his screwup alcoholic brother. The story is not a warm and fuzzy one, but it does it's share of soul probing.

It seems as well that the brilliant lead lawyer of Michael's firm has gone off his meds (manic depression), and stripped naked in a parking lot in Milwaukee where the trial is going on. Damage control is needed, lest the firm lose millions and millions of billable hours worth of dollars. But the problem is much more than money, the problem is ethics. UNorth has been producing a product that, while it may help crops grow, also kills human beings-- 468 of them to be precise. And they know it. And then suddenly the lead lawyer in Michael's firm knows it, and goes crazy.

What to do? Should the firm change sides of the aisle? Should there be a coverup? Meanwhile the in-house lawyer of UNorth decides that the fancy trial lawyer is a loose cannon that needs not merely to be fired, but indeed to be killed-- and he is. But this doesn't stop the problem, because Michael gets his hands on the damning internal memo.

Will he sell his soul for money? Will he turn state's evidence? Will he lose his life? Does Arnie (aka Pollack) the head of his firm even care about the real truth of the matter? I will not spoil the ending of the movie, but lets just say it is very suspensful, as many of Pollack's films are, and it takes a while to mentally sort out what is happening as you watch the film. Patience is required to get to the bottom of things, and find 'the truth' both in the movie, and of the movie. Like a good morality play, this film asks all the right questions, and then hints at answers, but allows the audience to fill in the blanks.

This film is two hours in length, and has a little coarse language, which I suppose is what got it it's R rating. There is actually almost no violence, and no sex in the film at all. It is however an adult film, complex, brooding, and probing, and well worth seeing. I suspect Clooney gets another Oscar nomination for this one.

But I will leave you with one abiding impression-- perhaps you know the old saying 'be sure your sins will find you out', or even 'the truth will out'. As it turns out, this film understands that representations of the truth in court, are not the same thing as 'the truth' as in reality as it happened. The question becomes-- does reality finally come to light and have it's day in court even in a relativistic post-modern world? That of course is what the Bible says when it talks about a final day of Judgment, a day when truth and justice and yet also love and mercy finally prevail. Go see this movie-- but be prepared to hear the echo of a great one liner from another good film in your head--'You can't handle the truth'.


Alethes Ginosko said...

Well, i believe you've convinced me to see this movie. Sounds very interesting, thanks.

Phil said...

Ben, I hate to say it, but Tony Gilroy directed, not Pollack. That notwithstanding, I enjoyed your review and I'm looking forward to seeing Clooney in this role


Ben Witherington said...

Thanks Phil---Pollack however is the producer of this movie, not the director, which is what I meant.


Anonymous said...

Considering Tony Gilroy both wrote and directed the movie you might wanna give the dude more credit. Not Sydney Pollack.

Otherwise, I look forward to seeing this.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Adam.... I quite agree he deserves plenty of credit. But it would not likely have ever happened without Pollack.