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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 Eugene Novikov

"Lawyer Movie Hall-of-Fame"
5 stars

As a film about lawyers, MICHAEL CLAYTON is unlikely and eerily realistic at the same time. On one hand, I have spent time in a law firm similar to the one the film depicts and can report a grand total of zero (0) car bombings. On the other, I have seen the seeds of the destructive, downright frightening brand of careerism on (admittedly exaggerated) display here among classmates and friends. The remarkable thing about Tony Gilroy's tense, top-notch thriller is its thoughtful, sympathetic portrayal of a universe -- high-powered corporate law -- that's not nearly as glamorous as many think.

A decade ago, Gilroy co-wrote the screenplay for Taylor Hackford's terrific The Devil's Advocate, and so may himself have contributed to the unjustified mystique surrounding the profession. There, of course, the conventional wisdom about lawyers was made quite literal indeed, though Gilroy and his collaborators couldn't resist surrounding its hotshot litgators with packs of gorgeous women and lots and lots of marble. You could have played hockey in Al Pacino's office.

Kenner Bach & Ledeen, the law firm that employs Michael Clayton's title character (George Clooney), isn't much like that, and not just because none of its occupants is in reality Satan. The offices are nice enough, but they're unmistakably offices. The people who work in them have plenty of money, for the most part (though Clayton himself has some debts to pay off), but it's clear they spend a lot of time there. One of the film's opening scenes depicts a late-night settlement pow-wow -- a mass tort suit against a herbicide manufacturer called UNorth is drawing to a close -- and it's obvious that a conference room full of lawyers, buried in boxes of documents, isn't going home anytime soon.

To the chagrin of his colleagues and his client, one of Kenner Bach's lead partners and the mastermind of UNorth's litigation strategy (Tom Wilkinson) has a crisis of conscience. Proclaiming that he is "Shiva, the god of death," he rips off his clothes in a deposition room and chases the bewildered deponent and opposing counsel naked around the parking lot. UNorth is guilty as sin, you see -- cancer and birth defects left and right -- and, concluding that he has blood on his hands, Wilkinson's Arthur Edens snaps and begins apparently plotting against the company he's supposed to be defending. The job of containing this disaster falls to Clayton who, though a lawyer himself, has somehow become Kenner Bach's "fixer" -- the guy they call in if, say, a well-paying client hightails it from the scene of a car accident.

The person most directly in the line of fire, it turns out, is UNorth's general counsel (Tilda Swinton), whose career may end if Edens gets his way. What she does to keep this from coming to pass may only be a realistic option in the movies, but her anxiety and profound self-delusion (she gives a spiel on work-life balance that is poignant and piercingly insightful on Gilroy's part) are very real. Clayton, meanwhile, is slowly starting to lose it; he's good at his job, but being a corporate law "janitor" can really weigh on one's soul.

With the exception of one deliberately off-kilter scene involving a troika of horses in a clearing at dawn, Gilroy's film is cold and bleak, navigating a thriller plot with an eye for hyperrealistic detail. It builds tension at the story level (this is, believe it or not, exciting stuff), but also inside Clayton himself. We can sense how oppressed he is, and feel his growing desperation to get as far away from all of this as possible. The ending is one of the most purely cathartic in recent memory.

Is Gilroy fair to lawyers? Not really, in the sense that the vast majority are good people making an honest living, even working rewarding jobs. On the other hand, he's not aiming at lawyers here anyway, not really. His target is the disturbing tendency of folks in high-pressure, high-powered careers to lose their sense of perspective and right-and-wrong. At one point, a disgusted police detective tells Clayton: "You got all these cops thinking you're a lawyer. Then you got all these lawyers thinking you're some kind of cop. You know exactly what you are." By the end of the film, he does.

(Reprinted from

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originally posted: 10/05/07 16:37:02
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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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