While preparing to take my morning walk before I hit the computer, I switched on TV and “Michael Clayton” was playing.
As a writer I always proclaim, “Damn, I wish I would have written that.”
Beautifully penned by Tony Gilroy, the film is one of my favorites and in my collection.
As I walked, I thought about what made it so fantastic. The characters are complex. The title character is lost in his own world of compromise and he so wants to be redeemed. Attorney Karen Crowder played by Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar, feels the pain of doing evil when she gives orders to have a man killed.
The dialogue is great. Arthur’s insane ramblings smack of truth. Michael’s final confrontation with Karen is confession and retribution.
What Gilroy also mastered was keeping up the tension throughout the film. From the first scene right to the end, the tension is like a tightening string.
Michael tells a man who has hit a runner with a car that he can do nothing for him.
Michael admires horses in a pasture, but we just know something will happen. Boom. His car explodes.
The tension is not only in the actions, but the emotions of the people. The exchange between Michael and Arthur in the alley is desperate, heartfelt and priceless.
Every scene makes you wonder, ‘What will happen next?’
So what does this have to do with me, you might ask. The beautiful writing of “Michael Clayton” is something to which we can strive for.
Analyze what makes this so good and try to make sure you have the same elements in your writing. That is good dialogue, great characters and tension.
I do wish I could have written “Michael Clayton,” like just I wish I had written “Catch-22,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Fargo,” among others. But I am so thankful that Tony Gilroy, Joseph Heller, Charlotte Bronte and the Coen Brothers wrote them, so that I can enjoy and learn from them.