Michael Clayton (Clooney) is the guy you turn to when you need things fixed or hushed up in a hurry. Clayton weaves his magic behind the scenes at the huge law firm of Kenner, Bach & Leeden where he makes anything that could damage any of the firm’s clients simply fade away.
Clayton hides well the fact thats he’s begun to feel repulsed by what his job entails. And while he’d just as soon tell these scummy corporate bigwigs where to go, he continues performing the job the firm expects of him while loathing himself for doing it. His displeasure is just barely contained beneath the surface when he’s called out of a poker game to take care of a hit-and-run accident. Arriving at the driver’s home, Clayton reels off the client’s options while obviously struggling to hide his distain for the man who clearly believes he’s entitled to special treatment due to his connections -- and money.
But that’s just the set-up for the main story of Michael Clayton which is the potential settlement of a $3 billion class-action suit that’s been dragging on for half a dozen years. The firm’s lead litigator assigned to the case, Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), has snapped. Edens has stopped taking his manic-depressive meds, as evidenced by a bizarre strip tease he does while in the middle of a deposition. Edens has come to the conclusion that the class-action suit against his client, the agrochemical giant U/North, has merit. Hundreds of people have died as a result of using weed killer from U/North, and Edens believes U/North should be held accountable.
Let’s face it. To say George Clooney is aging gracefully is a gross understatement of facts. The man appears to be eternally, youthfully handsome, even with grey streaks and a few wrinkles. However in Michael Clayton, Clooney disguises the boyish charm that works so well for him in so many different films behind the mask of a man resigned to the fact he’s basically sold his soul to the devil.
Tom Wilkinson spouts crazy gibberish as he passionately renounces the legal firm he’s dedicated his adult years to serving. Every little bit of torment Wilkinson feels as a lawyer who’s representing the wrong side of a lawsuit is clearly evident on his face and in his voice. Wilkinson delivers an amazingly powerful performance and one that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Swinton’s equally as mesmerizing as a woman you wouldn’t want to cross ever in life.
Michael Clayton may be his first film as a director, but here’s hoping it’s not Gilroy’s last. As a director, Gilroy has shown great skill and restraint in being able to patiently allow his story to unfold, without drawing things out or rushing the plot along. Gilroy also doesn’t play down to his audience. He assumes we’ll figure things out as the film moves along, and he’s correct in that assumption because he’s done a great job of crafting an intelligent script and then handing it over to actors who allow themselves to be completely absorbed in their characters. It’s a dialogue-heavy film and some of the scenes might have played out as too wordy had they not been delivered by actors of Wilkinson, Clooney and Swinton's talent.
The fall has become synonymous with serious George Clooney films. Of the lot – Syriana, The Good German, Good Night, and Good Luck – Michael Clayton is the best of the bunch. Fully fleshed-out characters, dynamic performances, and a compelling story add up to a smart must-see thriller.
Michael Clayton was directed by Tony Gilroy and is rated R for language including some sexual dialogue.