This fall Bill Murray's depressively muted performance in Lost in Translation has caused critics to say he's outdone himself, though in that movie he scarcely does himself at all. If, on the other hand, you want to see a comic performance based on the theory that more is more, see George Clooney's manic turn in the Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty. Clooney plays Miles Massey, a Beverly Hills divorce attorney at the top of his game. He's good in person, both in his office concocting a counterattack for a cheating wife, over her bewildered objections to its untruth, and in court launching such counterattacks so that sure winners going up against him lose. (Miles is wickedly skillful at throwing his adversaries off balance; in one hearing opposing counsel can only feebly object on the grounds of "poetry recitation.") And he's good on paper: he's the author of the Massey Pre-nup, an agreement that has never been "penetrated." Signing it is widely considered proof that the poorer partner to a marriage is truly in love. Miles is so good, in fact, he's bored.
He isn't absolutely armor-plated, however. He has nightmares about being called into the office of the head partner of his firm, a sputtering old man hooked up to an oxygen tank who keeps count of his underling's accomplishments. Miles processes information and responds so fast that the person he's talking to barely needs to participate in the conversation and Clooney has the verbal timing people claim went out of existence after the '40s. But being hotwired is a problem when Miles becomes emotionally involved in a high-profile divorce between Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her philandering real estate magnate husband (Edward Herrmann, loosened up for a change) because he can't slow down. We see that his precision-bombing smoothness shades into tickiness; as we all know there's no clear boundary where control turns into its opposite.
Miles is thrown off balance because Marilyn, a dark, zaftig beauty, hits him where he didn't think he was vulnerable. But he doesn't ease up representing her husband in the divorce just because he's in love. He's not that kind of a fool. He uses his most infuriating tactics against Marilyn's attorney, and then laughs when the man storms out of the meeting--"It's a negotiation!" He expertly, and not fully legally, beats the golddigging Marilyn out of the settlement she's "earned" but seems to think that she'll take it in stride, as if he'd beat her at doubles in tennis. Of course, there would always be a cloud because she's poorer (because of his adroit lawyering)--how will he know she really loves him?--but even that seems dispelled when she wins a settlement from her second husband that makes her the richer party. Miles feels he himself is rich enough to sign a Massey Pre-nup in order to win Marilyn. It's the most romantic thing he can think of to do.