A blog post last week by New York Times writer David Carr gives a good description of two Oscar nominees' performances and why they are both great. I've only seen pieces of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in “There Will Be Blood” and it gave me chills. But as Carr points out in his review, George Clooney's performance in "Michael Clayton" was just as brilliant, because like Carr, I saw the character Michael Clayton when I watched the film, Clooney was gone.
In his Carpetbagger blog post in The New York Times, dated February 13, David Carr said he:
...was never able to forget while he was watching ["There Will Be Blood] that this was a Great Actor playing the Role of a Lifetime. Mr. Day-Lewis’s substantial skills — an ability to push his body and voice into something remarkable to behold — kept pulling the Bagger out of the movie. He found himself focusing on the actor’s choices and less on the story...
And then there is George Clooney. Mr. Clooney is a movie star who, like his rival in the best actor competition, happens to be a working actor, which is something we tend to forget because he has such a large footprint in the culture. He is where we store cool — Danny Ocean is just one click away from his public persona.
Nonetheless, in “Clayton” he inhabits a lowly servant to power who is constantly being pushed around by seen and unseen forces. He is a loser in a nice three-piece, a guy who traded in his ideals on the cheap and is often seen staring into the mess he has made of his life.
The trick of his performance lies in his ability to dial back his own wattage. He looks doughy, burdened and confused through much of the film, swimming through the detritus of a misbegotten life and finally finding his way. The Bagger is less impressed with his too-pat speech-making that baits the trap to bring the whole thing down and more taken with his modulation and nuance in a quietly demanding role. As a fixer, father, poker player and sibling, Mr. Clooney uses his craft to make us forget about the movie star and focus on a guy named Michael Clayton.
Both actors have already received the ultimate prize — Mr. Day-Lewis won a lead actor Oscar for his freakishly amazing turn as Christy Brown in “My Left Foot,” and Mr. Clooney won a supporting Oscar for playing Bob Barnes in “Syriana” — so there is no historical burden in making the award. The Bagger is not a clapper, but he will be cheering inside, along with everyone else, when Mr. Day-Lewis wins because he is certainly deserving. He just thinks that, in a year thick with excellence — Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortensen and Tommy Lee Jones have their own legitimate claims — the performance that will stay with him belongs to Mr. Clooney.