Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Premise: The title character (George Clooney) is a “fixer” for a law firm who finds himself picking up the pieces after one of the firm’s attorneys (Tom Wilkinson), representing a insecticide company in a billion dollar lawsuit, sabotages his own case and begins aiding the plaintiffs.
What Works: The acting in Michael Clayton is stellar. Clooney is good as the troubled lawyer who finds redemption but the two outstanding performances in the film belong to Tom Wilkinson as attorney Arthur Edens and Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder. Wilkinson plays a man who has crossed an ethical and moral boundary and his personal torment and guilt over what he has done with his life and the toll it has taken on his conscience is wonderfully done. Swinton is also excellent playing one of the corporation’s directors who loses her way ethically while trying to defend the company. Swinton does not reduce her character to an evil woman in a pantsuit sitting behind her desk like Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons. Instead, the film shows how she is corrupted by her choices. The trisect of Clayton, Eden, and Crowder makes for a very interesting and effective meditation on the effects of corporate greed in which characters are destroyed or redeemed by their opportunities and choices.
What Doesn’t: Michael Clayton is, overall, rather flat, and the film lacks dramatic urgency. It introduces a time element fairly late in the story, as Clayton discovers the truth about the company’s activities, but much of the film is spent with Clayton drifting between various characters, piecing together the reasons for Edens’ apparent mental breakdown.
Bottom Line: Michael Clayton is a good film because of its performances and subtle but effective character work done by its actors and the screenplay. Despite taking on corporate greed and corruption, the story does not have much to say about these things. Like Syriana, this film does not bring about new perspectives on these issues and themes, but it does do an effective job of illustrating them and showing how they impact the individuals involved.
Episode: #165 (November 4, 2007)