Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is the disgruntled fixer” for the high-powered Manhattan law firm of Kenner, Bach and Ledeen. He is disgusted with himself, his job, his failed marriage, a failed bar/restaurant and steadily climbing debts. The firm is representing U/North, a giant agrochemical corporation sued in a class action suit for $3000000000. A much lower settlement seems in the bag until the firm’s hottest hotshot attorney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), representing U-North, has a meltdown and turns against his employer in favor of the plaintiffs. Michael’s boss, firm partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), orders him to defuse the potential scandal and clean up the mess in “Michael Clayton.”
The film begins at the end when Bach orders Michael, in the middle of the night, to fix a problem for a high-paying client involved in a hit and run accident. After he finishes with the sordid business, he stops in the country by a horse farm. He leaves his car to gaze at the serenity of a trio of fillies on a hill when, suddenly, the car explodes in a huge ball of flame. Then, we get the “four days earlier” caption and we flash to the beginning of the story.
At U/North, in-house chief counselor Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is certain that her career is secure when the company settles the lawsuit for a fraction of the contested $3 billion. Things begin to fall apart when Edens’s conscience gets the better of him and he contacts the suit plaintiffs with evidence that U/North was, in fact, guilty of the charges of secretly releasing a known-to-be-toxic insecticide on an unsuspecting public. Michael’s assignment is to find loose cannon Arthur and fix the catastrophic damage that the attorney is so close to causing.
Clayton does not know it but a mysterious pair of watchers is observing his every move. They are tailing him to find Edens, their real target, and Michael does their legwork to locate the renegade lawyer. This spirals Michael into a miasma of intrigue and murder that will put his own personal problems on a backburner and his life in imminent danger. The resulting thriller is a solid effort by Tony Gilmore (scripter for the “Bourne” films) who wears two hats with his original screenplay and his debut as director.
While George Clooney gives a solid, if unremarkable, performance, the most notable element of “Michael Clayton” is an Oscar-worthy perf by Tom Wilkinson. The actor slips himself into the densely woven cloak of his character, Arthur Edens, who, while representing U/North, realizes that he is an active participant in covering up the company’s distribution of the insecticide that has deadly effect on the locals where used. His revelation costs him, mentally, but his resolve to do right liberates the man from his past corporate-leaning litigations.
Tilda Swinton puts a full edge on her Karen Crowder, an ambitious, even ruthless, corporate henchman who puts her future on the line to settle the suit (rather than sustain a lengthy, expensive court battle that could end with granting the three billion to the plaintiffs). Sydney Pollack, in the small but important role as Marty Bach, the man in charge, effectively plays the hardnosed partner and puppet master overseeing the U/North defense team. The rest of the supporting players are well cast.
Techs are first rate, particularly Robert Elswit’s sharp and moody lensing, giving the film a highly polished look. Production, costume and score fit the bill, too.
Michael Clayton” is an intelligent thriller that does not have an axe to grind. Sure, there is the evil corporate entity and its pitiless lawyers but they are relative fodder to feed Michael’s story of redemption. I give it a B.Laura:
Laura gives "Michael Clayton" a B+.
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