With the Oscars just two weeks days away, it’s way past time to review the last remaining Best Picture nominees: Michael Clayton and Atonement. We’ll start today with Michael Clayton which, as the post title has already given away, is a surprisingly excellent film, a beautiful example of the way elements of different genres can be mixed together in order to create something new and exciting.

In Jacques Derrida’s playful yet obfuscating “The Law of Genre,” JD argues that genre cannot be transcended. last_action_poster.jpgA text, in trying to move outside of its genre, simply changes its definition. A novel that suddenly introduces a play, ala Moby Dick or Exit Ghost, is still a novel, even if the dramatic form appears to be incongruous with the prose of the novel. I bring this up for several reasons. The first is that many movies (and other pieces of literature) play with the “4th wall” and have characters acknowledge their fictionality (the best example of this is Funny Games, Michael Haneke’s magnum opus, whose English language remake is soon to be released. See our coverage of Haneke’s language games, here). Still, this does nothing to change the genre of film. Until such a time when we enter the world of Last Action Hero and moviegoers can enter the movie and film characters can come into our world, film will always remain a film. The other reason that I bring this up is because of this article in Slate, America’s premier online magazine. According to the Slate piece, Michael Clayton is only superficially a thriller. Though it mixes elements from the action genre (quick cuts, car chases, MURDER!) in order to heighten the tension, the movie best succeeds as an indictment of the legal realm. In their words:

beneath the expertly deployed suspense lies something more interesting: an indictment of the mercenary universe of white-shoe law firms and a devastating—and unusually accurate—look at the demoralized lives of the lawyers who work for them.

While Slate considers this the ole switcheroo (a surprising variation, according to Webster’s), I hold Michael Clayton’s admixture of genres to be one of its more interesting developments. Read the rest of this entry »