Movie Review: Michael Clayton
Rating: R (language)
Length: 119 minutes
Release date: October 12, 2007
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Stars: 4 out of 5
Stick George Clooney into a movie and people will flock to see him, no matter what role he plays. Fortunately, "Michael Clayton" has plenty to offer in addition to Clooney. The film, directed by Tony Gilroy, is about a fixer working for a top law firm and is filled with plenty of action and mystery, providing a solid stage for Clooney's brilliant performance.
Clooney's portrayal of Michael Clayton is a fairly gritty one. He's the man in the shadows, working the jobs that no one else in the law firm is capable of handling. Clooney plays the role with a dark, emotional tone that belies the character's clean-cut conservative appearance.
The role of Clayton is a complicated one, and Clooney's performance adds a great deal of dimension. He's perfect as the flawed character. In one scene, he is seen as a loving divorced father chauffeuring his son to school in a well-detailed Mercedes. In another, he shows the character as a degenerate gambler desperate to make $75,000 to pay his loan shark and willing to participate in backroom poker games in Chinatown to get it.
"Michael Clayton" isn't a one-man show by any means. The strong supporting cast includes Sydney Pollock in one of his last acting roles as Marty Bach, the managing partner of the law firm. Bach is the strength behind the firm, guiding the various characters and subtly manipulating events. The plot of "Michael Clayton" centers on Arthur Edens, played by British actor Tom Wilkinson. Edens is a partner in Bach's firm and is in the midst of an emotional breakdown as the movie begins. Unfortunately for Edens, the breakdown occurs in the middle of a deposition in which Bach's firm represents a client accused of polluting the environment with poisonous materials. The company is guilty, and Edens, knowing this, is unable to continue representing the firm. He falls apart during the deposition and runs naked from the building into the snow-filled parking lot.
Clayton is called in to fix the situation, but his friendship with Edens makes it difficult to work effectively. Eden knows the company's secrets, and the actions taken to silence him are at the heart of the movie's plot.
Cast in the role of corporate counsel Karen Crowder is Tilda Swinton, whose recent roles include The White Witch in "The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Her portrayal of Crowder is fantastic, and Swinton easily matches Clooney in style and the ability to steal most scenes in which she appears.
Along with directing the film, Gilroy also wrote the script, providing a complex plot that includes a bevy of three-dimensional characters. Gilroy has extensive experience as a screenwriter, having scripted "The Devil's Advocate," "Proof of Life" and the four Jason Bourne movies. "Michael Clayton" served as his directorial debut and was soon followed in 2009 with the film "Duplicity" and in 2012 with
"The Bourne Legacy."
Though the film's plot centers around Edens and the attempts made to silence him once his bipolar condition becomes known, the main thrust of the film is Clayton's reaction to working as a fixer when his friend is caught in the middle. Clooney brings real life to the character, allowing audiences to see his internal conflict clearly.
As the movie progresses, the viewer is privy to Clayton's self-examination, giving a glimpse into the effects that both his failed marriage and his business have had on the way he lives his life. These failures seem to be the driving force behind the character. At first, the audience sees Clayton as a man of power and strength, perfectly in control of himself. Over time, though, the character is fleshed out largely through his flaws, which serve to bring the viewer closer to the character and make his situation all the more sympathetic.
Gilroy's casting really makes the film a success. All of the major actors are true cinematic veterans, bringing years of experience and natural talent to their roles. The script is well written with tight dialogue that keeps the action moving smoothly along. Another treat is the cinematography of the film, provided by Robert Elswit. Elswit created a look for the film that's intensely thrilling; stark office spaces contrasting wonderfully with warm welcoming scenes of Clayton's family home. The combination of the cast, direction and mood help to put this movie ahead of the many other legal and business thrillers, earning it a place toward the top of the DVD and Blu-ray pile as a must-see feature, especially for George Clooney fans.