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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

Michael Clayton
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by EricDSnider

"George Clooney: Is there anything he can't do?"
5 stars

Self-effacing, quick with a joke, and refreshingly unpretentious, George Clooney is Hollywood's happy-go-lucky poster boy these days. He tosses off lighthearted fare like "Ocean's Thirteen" just because he enjoys doing it, and then he does something like "Michael Clayton" to remind us that, holy crap, the guy can ACT, too.

Clooney's face is out of focus on the movie's poster, a symbolic representation of his title character, a "fixer" for a high-powered law firm who's undergoing an identity crisis. His duties at the firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen are vague but apparently valuable. Early in the film, when a heavy-duty client is the perpetrator in a hit-and-run accident, it's Michael Clayton they send in to advise and control him. Crisis management is Michael's specialty, but already we can see that the ethical vacuum he works in is getting to him. When the hit-and-runner -- clearly guilty and too rich to believe he should get in trouble for it -- complains that Michael isn't giving him enough help, Michael replies, "I'm not a miracle worker. I'm a janitor."

As we learn when the movie jumps back to four days earlier, the reality of his job -- someone who cleans up rich people's stupid messes -- has only just begun to weigh on him. He was hustled off to Minneapolis after a friend and colleague, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), went off his meds, lost his mind, and stripped naked while taking a deposition. Arthur has finally reached his own breaking point, having realized he's wasted the last several years of his life defending a chemical company against a huge class-action lawsuit that, were there any justice in the world, the company would pay every penny of. Arthur can't take it anymore, and in his half-sane, I've-just-seen-the-light zealotry, he urges Michael to get out, too.

The chemical company, United Northfield, is upset that the man Kenner, Bach & Ledeen sent to help them is crazy, which is why Michael has been dispatched to smooth things over. The company's in-house counsel, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), is not impressed by Michael's razzle-dazzle routine ... and frankly, Michael isn't too impressed with himself, either. His slowly building disillusionment over the last who-knows-how-many months has been brought to a head by Arthur's behavior. Furthermore, as he picks up the case where Arthur left off, he finds evidence that Karen Crowder and her company may be guiltier than he thought, even guiltier than most giant corporations that pay millions in attorneys' fees to avoid billions in settlement fees.

Michael's personal life has been all but swallowed up in his devotion to the firm. He is divorced. The restaurant he tried to open with his deadbeat brother has failed, putting him in a major financial bind that is particularly humiliating for him, given his unlimited expense account and millionaire clients. He has struggled with a gambling addiction. He is unhappy and haggard for most of the film, always looking like he hasn't shaved for exactly two days -- and considering Clooney's public persona is that of a carefree, contented bachelor, it's jarring to see him so clearly miserable. (See? Acting!) It's also a little exciting, because we get the sense that Michael Clayton is not going to tolerate his own glumness for much longer. He's a fixer, and he's going to fix things.

Michael's angst is existential (who am I, what do I stand for, yada yada), but the film, written and directed by "Bourne" trilogy screenwriter Tony Gilroy, is gritty and plot-centric, too. As Michael juggles his ethical quandaries, his friendship with Arthur, and his investigation into the United Northfield case (which involves people being poisoned by their products), we get the satisfying revelations, twists, and double-crosses that we expect from a legal thriller. Think of it as a classier, more introspective John Grisham story.

Clooney's performance is bolstered by first-rate turns by Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and Sydney Pollack. The latter plays Michael's boss at the law firm, Marty Bach, who has long ago come to terms with the moral gray areas of his work, not to mention the out-and-out black ones. Is Michael a company man through and through, or does he have limits, the way Arthur Edens turned out to? That's the central question hanging over Michael's head in this tasty mix of crowd-pleasing action and whip-smart storytelling.

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originally posted: 10/23/07 04:01:08
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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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