Clooney stars as Michael Clayton, an attorney known as a "janitor"
at his law firm Keener, Bach and Ledeen, due to his ability at cleaning
up the firm's dirtiest cases. He is also a compulsive gambler, a
divorced father, nearing bankruptcy (due to a botched investing
in the hospitality industry with his delinquent brother, who has
left him stranded), and at 45 years old, left with no idea as to
what his purpose is in life.
His firm's biggest client is the corporate agricultural giant U-North,
which is fighting a three billion dollar class action lawsuit that
states the company's weed killer has polluted water in rural areas,
and made the residents of these rural areas extremely sick. On the
case for the firm is brilliant lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson),
who during a deposition in Milwaukee unexpectedly breaks down, stripping
off his clothes and proclaiming his love for a key witness testifying
At the behest of his boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), Michael is
flown to Milwaukee to try and take control of the situation, only
to find that Arthur may in fact have evidence to incriminate U-North
and has decided to use it against them at the expense of his career.
Meanwhile, U-North's top litigator Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton)
- whose career rests on an successful verdict for her company -
has hired two men (Robert Prescott and Terry Serpico) to track Michael
and Arthur's every move, with every intention to order their deaths
if need be.
Written and directed by Tony Gilroy (the co-writer of the Bourne
series), Michael Clayton is a chilling, intense conspiracy
thriller, filled with intriguing characters and great performances.
Unfortunately, it also features an at times confusing screenplay
that leaves many questions unanswered, especially in regards to
the motives of Tom Wilkinson's character, Arthur Edens.
This is not to say that Tony Gilroy has not written a great script.
In fact, it is probably one of the more thought provoking and intelligent
films of its kind seen in a while. Yet its penchant for creating
muddled, and what feels like often empty symbolic gestures does
little in creating a captivating whole.
Clooney continues to surprise with another great performance. He
possesses a credible presence on screen which not only transfixes
the viewer, but makes his character - a highly intelligent, yet
flawed attorney who knows the law like the back of his hand - that
more believable, and above all, likeable. His cool charisma is kept
in check, and is replaced by a quiet redemption as his character
struggles with the complexities of just what is right and wrong
in his world.
A touching scene between Clooney and his on screen son (played impressive
well by young Austin Williams), where they speak forwardly about
the blunt realities of life, is a key moment in the film. He preaches
to his son that when in doubt do "what is in your heart",
advice which he himself takes on when his situation turn dire.
Tilda Swinton is excellent as the cold sober career woman constantly
flirting with evil, her cutthroat ambition pushing her to extremes.
Sydney Pollack - one of the better director/actors - is very good,
as is Tom Wilkinson (if not a little over the top).
The way which Gilroy and his brother, Editor Dan Gilroy, structure
the movie makes for interesting viewing, especially in regards to
the films end credits. And throughout there is a biting atmosphere
which cannot be shaken off.
Overall Michael Clayton is a very good film, held back by
a number of unresolved issues. Perhaps multiple viewings are needed
to really appreciate its complexities.