Michael Clayton

Oscar season begins in earnest with the release of Michael Clayton, a high powered legal thriller that will surely have George Clooney wearing a tux come next February.

Clooney plays the title character, a janitor at a high priced law firm in New York.  By janitor, I mean he’s a lawyer who specializes in cleaning up messes for the firm’s clients. If someone’s involved in a hit and run, Micheal Clayton knows how to make it go away. His own life, however, is a disaster. He’s burned out and is trying to find an escape route. But the restaurant he’d opened failed, leaving him $70,000 in debt. He’s divorced with a kid and only limited visitation rights. He has shaky relations with his brothers, one of whom is a cop, the other a recovering addict.

The crisis comes when Kenner, Bach & Ledeen’s top litigator, Arthur Edens, played by the great Tom Wilkinson has a bad attack of conscience. The firm has been helping a fertilizer manufacturer string out a class action law suit. This case is what has paid the bills at KBL for the last fifteen years. Arthur has dedicated almost his entire career to it. Finally the filthiness of it all gets to him and he strips naked during a deposition and runs into the snowy parking lot of a Minneapolis hotel. They send Micheal to clean up the mess and bring Arthur back into line. He soon finds that Arthur has uncovered a key piece of evidence, the smoking gun memo signed by the director himself, that would bust this case open, but not in the client’s favor. Micheal must decide what to do.

The script, by Tony Gilroy, who also directed is smart and literate, maybe too much so at times. Gilroy, who wrote the Bourne films, also directed here, his first effort. I can’t wait until his second, because this guy could be a major talent. The pace never lags; the acting is terrific and the film is beautiful. The photography is toned down to give the film a gloomy mood reflecting the plot, where nothing is clear.

But it’s the acting that really shines here. Clooney can do the slick parts of the role in his sleep, everybody know that. It’s when he gives you glimpses of the character’s vulnerability that he really shines. This is among his best work.

The supporting cast is great too. Wilkinson retains a little subtlety in a part that doesn’t call for much. Sidney Pollack only plays certain kinds of roles, namely the boss, the guy who calls the shots. This is one of his best performances. The always brilliant Tilda Swinton plays Karen Crowder, the chief council for the client, who compromises her principles in order to show that she can get the job done just like her male counterparts. In this she’s all vulnerability and it’s terrific.
Michael Clayton will figure prominently in this year’s Academy Awards.


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October 2007
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