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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.43%
Average: 25.37%
Pretty Bad: 7.46%
Total Crap: 2.99%

6 reviews, 31 user ratings

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Michael Clayton
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Fix Yourself On Your Own Time"
3 stars

The great Alfred Hitchcock once summed up so profoundly why it is we’ll root for bad guys and anti-heroes in the movies. Audiences just love to see someone who does their job really well. We can respect that, even be fascinated by it, despite whatever objectionable behavior it might entail. Whether the titular character George Clooney plays in this film is compromised beyond a moral certitude is to each his own. Over and over we’re clued in to his work as a “fixer”, the kind of go-to guy that those with power and money can often hire to clean up the pieces before they spiral out of control for good. What’s disappointing in coming to our judgment of him is that writer/director Tony Gilroy has chosen to focus on the downwind of a character. Drama frequently begins in such a place, but despite an exceptional performance by Clooney, Michael Clayton is like watching a drawn-out third act that left the really compelling stuff back in the first two.

Clooney’s Clayton is introduced to us through his job as a “fixer”. A client from his New York law firm has been involved in an auto incident and Clayton is dispatched to unveil his options, which aren’t many. Unwanted and clearly disenchanted by this visit, he finds clarity in an early morning horse spotting only to have his own automobile meet with an incident. Who would want to kill Michael Clayton? Flashing back a few days, this self-implied “janitor” was called to clean up the mess of Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), one of the firm’s litigators. Seems Arthur has gone a little loopy while orchestrating the defense of a billion-dollar lawsuit involving a weed killer that eliminated more than just weeds. It’s more than just mere chemical imbalance though as Edens is positively Peter Finch-ian about evidence he’s uncovered that make it impossible for him to do just one more mop-up job for a fatcat corporation.

Clayton is not up for this anymore. With debt rising from a failed business and the occasional card game, a deadbeat brother and the time he’s trying to make with his son from a divorce, Michael wishes he could get back to actual lawyer-ing; something that his boss (Sydney Pollack) understands but cannot allow since no one can apparently do what he can do. This opens up Clayton’s eyes to understanding Arthur’s breakdown and slowly comes to his way of thinking that they’re on the wrong side of it all. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), the lead counsel for the corporate entity didn’t hire the firm for its mental imbalance and moral infortitude and when she gets wise that the tide is turning against their money she sees another couple of weeds worth pulling.

Tony Gilroy has quietly accumulated one of the more impressive screenwriting resumes of the past 15 years. Few may have guessed it after the better-than-average skating rom-com, The Cutting Edge, but Gilroy’s work took a turn into the morality-vs.-mortality milieu with an adaptation of Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne, the (again) better-than-average thriller, Extreme Measures and the even better (and underrated) The Devil’s Advociate before getting his share of points for amping up the Bourne trilogy with truncated and bare essential versions of the Ludlum books. With his directorial debut here, his screenplay once again has the vision of something far more complex but on the surface ends up pretty simplistic and not nearly as satisfying. Ethical switcheroos through corporate malfeasence is nothing new in the movies as A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich reminded us and the plotting of Michael Clayton is a mere reminder of those films with a central character that just isn’t as memorable.

Clooney gives it his all into changing that though. His performance as the titular Clayton is nothing short of, arguably, the best of his career; even better than his Oscar-winning turn in the even denser Syriana. Bringing an Arthur Miller-esque spin to whom would normally be introduced as a cocksure upstart; untouchable both professionally and within his own ego. From scene one this is a man who needs a change, desperate for something or someone to fix him and wipe all traces of his indiscretions from the public record. With a sullen and weary disposition, Clooney is so good at it that we become disenchanted with his existence as well. The idea of a “fixer” is such an intriguing concept to the casual outsider that we want to see this guy in action at least once to begin appreciating how valuable he is to his employers. How long has he been feeling this way? Was he ever as good a lawyer? How did they discover this “talent” of his? Only a prequel could tell.

Similar to A Civil Action’s change of heart but without the setup that really defines his lot in life, Michael Clayton is a fixer whom we never see really fix anything. We can make the leap to his frustration as a go-to guy, but this downtrodden confidence sensed beneath his fatigued exterior isn’t compelling enough to pace us through the manner of redemption we know is imminent. The climactic confrontation between Clooney and Swinton is so well-written and performed that it almost makes the languourous pacing worth stretching for the finish line. I’ll even go so far as it being formidable enough to warrant the film its own second chance through another viewing. But the first go-round left me feeling too much like Michael Clayton, which even he would admit to not wanting.

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originally posted: 10/05/07 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/26/14 virginia Never get tired of this American masterpiece. 5 stars
5/31/11 Monday Morning FYI, Roger Ebert did a great follow-up on this film dated 5/29/11. Check it out. 5 stars
12/05/10 fmc Are you what you do? Thats what Clooney wrestles with. Wonderful film. 5 stars
9/11/10 Monday Morning Better Hitchcock than Hitchcock. 5 stars
1/21/10 Stanley Thai An engrossing thriller that has brains. The cast is wonderful! 4 stars
10/01/09 Roy DeMeo Horrible- Kept watching hoping something would change. Too many sub-plots VERY CONFUSING 2 stars
3/06/09 MP Bartley Nothing remotely new, but the acting keeps it chugging along. 4 stars
2/23/09 mr.mike Uninteresting and repetitive. Clooney is awful. 2 stars
10/27/08 Michael M Unsuspensful at times, with plotlines that added nothing. Final scene is very satisfying. 3 stars
6/07/08 R.W. Welch Well plotted corporate skullduggery stuff. Solid cast. 4 stars
5/04/08 L. Hansen Incredible film. You describe every bit eloquently, Peter. Thanks. 5 stars
4/05/08 Arcane So serious its boring. Crap 1 stars
4/05/08 Wilbur Most boring Action film ever! only ONE explosion! 1 stars
3/26/08 Brad Pitt I should have gotten the lead. Then I could bang Angie in my trailer. 4 stars
3/17/08 hatrip A well made corporate film that absorbs, but lacks something in it's execution 3 stars
3/13/08 Jefenator Well-written, well-acted. Very satisfying thriller! 5 stars
3/03/08 ladavies Pretty good movie there George. 4 stars
11/25/07 martha very well acted, written & directed.Recommend this movie to all. 5 stars
11/08/07 Zigurrat Decent Film, but the idea that anyone would kill to protect a corporate job is unbelievable 4 stars
11/05/07 Jim Duca Boring and predictable. Erin Brockavich in pants, 2 stars
10/23/07 Ole Man Bourbon George Clooney is anything but unpretentious. Entertaining movie, though. 4 stars
10/21/07 Ethan Good acting, but a slow moving storyline. 3 stars
10/17/07 Elizabeth Wonderfully acted, too pat an ending. 4 stars
10/16/07 Meta Baron A half decent made for TV movie but not much more. Predictable too. 3 stars
10/16/07 anon.. not as good as people say 3 stars
10/16/07 George Lee Well-acted tedium. 2 stars
10/15/07 Martha Lynne Utterly gripping and satisying. Clooney could not be better. 5 stars
10/14/07 Zeke Argo Shallow characters and pacing is laborious at best. Not worth the hype or the time. 2 stars
10/14/07 Monday Morning This is a superb story that has you thinking every minute. Beautifully made, too. 5 stars
10/14/07 Richard Loeffler Good but not as great as most reviews would have it. 4 stars
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  05-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 19-Feb-2008

  28-Sep-2007 (15)

  18-Oct-2007 (MA)

Directed by
  Tony Gilroy

Written by
  Tony Gilroy

  George Clooney
  Tom Wilkinson
  Tilda Swinton
  Sydney Pollack
  Michael O'Keefe
  Ken Howard

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