At the behest of the firm's co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), Michael Clayton (George Clooney), a former prosecutor from a family of cops, takes care of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen's dirtiest work; he cleans up clients' messes. But a divorce, his gambling and a failed business venture have left him with a large debt. At the agrichemical company U/North, the career of in-house counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) rests on the multi-million dollar settlement of a class action suit over potential harm to humans, that Clayton's firm is leading to a seemingly successful conclusion. When Kenner, Bach & Ledeen's top litigator, the brilliant Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has an apparent breakdown and tries to sabotage the U/North case, Clayton is sent to tackle this unprecedented disaster and in doing so comes face to face with the reality of what he has become.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whatever good storytelling skills Tony Gilroy has (as demonstrated by the Bourne trilogy scripts) he has allowed to get a bit jumbled in this fairly standard corruption thriller. The central story arc is carried by the ever-credible George Clooney as Michael Collins the 'janitor' at a Big Law Firm in New York. His cleaning tasks involve the firm's big clients who get into a spot of trouble - like hit and run accidents. It takes a nasty chemical company to get him and the firm's top attack lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), to see the error of their ways.
The complex bunch of relationships inside the firm and in Collins' private life is drawn with limited clarity, eroding our involvement with them. But there is enough dirty business and clean-up business to make up for that as we discover how badly some lawyers and some corporate execs can behave. None too subtle nor wildly original, Michael Collins is nevertheless good escapist entertainment where the moral boundaries are clear and the resolution is satisfyingly just.
Tom Wilkinson is nice'n fruity and Tilda Swinton makes a hissable villainess whose muscle team can read her deadly coded language. It's not a truly great film but has some of the screen's most authoritative actors delivering serious dialogue and living under pressure. Tension is well maintained throughout, even if at the expense of some clarity.
Review by Louise Keller:
He's called a miracle worker, but Michael Clayton calls himself a janitor. That's because he has no illusions whatsoever about what he does. This gripping jigsaw puzzle of a movie about ethics jump-starts our pulses, luring us into the world of corporate lawyers, big business and how the dirt gets swept away. A riveting central performance from George Clooney ensures we are onside from the start, as his Michael Clayton dexterously goes about his daily business of assured and meticulous damage control. At times confusing, always intriguing and ultimately thought provoking, this is a stunning directing debut from acclaimed screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who reveals the many layers of complexity with assurance.
People are incomprehensible, says Sydney Pollack's Marty Bach, who puppeteers Michael Clayton from one disaster to the next. There's Tom Wilkinson's manic depressive lawyer Arthur Edens - crazy or crazy enough to stumble on the truth? And Tilda Swinton's ruthlessly ambitious corporate executive. As for Michael Clayton himself, he is a man who has sold his soul. He works to pay his debts and dotes on his son: 'You're not going to be one of those people for whom shit falls out of the sky,' he promises his 10 year old son Henry (Austin Williams).
The story is told in tantalising piece-meal snapshots and flashbacks. The storytelling is as blurred as the morality, and slowly, we start to understand the turmoil that Michael Clayton faces as he finally sees the ugliness of the sordid world in which he actively participates. Clooney is intense, yet always accessible, with often a tired sadness in his eyes. There's a telling moment when he holds a large bonus cheque in his right hand and a stick of dynamite (in the form of a red folder with explosive contents) in his left; it is clear there is a choice to be made. Pollack and Wilkinson both bring gravitas, and Swinton is superb, skilfully displaying both sides of Karen Crowder - the slick, well-groomed public persona and the vulnerable woman practising her lines in her underwear by the mirror. It's tense and powerful and the satisfying climactic scene between Swinton and Clooney positively sizzles.
Email this article
MICHAEL CLAYTON (MA15+)
CAST: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe, Denis O'Hare, Robert Prescott, Austin Williams,Sean Cullen, Merritt Wever, David Lansbury
PRODUCER: Jennifer Fox, Kerry Orent, Sydney Pollack, Steve Samuels
DIRECTOR: Tony Gilroy
SCRIPT: Tony Gilroy
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Elswit
EDITOR: John Gilroy
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kevin Thompson
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 18, 2007