a quick take by Tony McRae
George Clooney has been fascinated with the past--both as actor and director, and for the most part with great effect. His "past" projects starting with the 1920s include "Leatherheads" (the 20's); "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (the 30's); "The Good German" (the 40s); "Good Night, and Good Luck" (the 50's); "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" director (the 60's and 70s); "Three Kings" (the 90's).
This tug of the past surely played a part in drawing Clooney to the role of Michael Clayton, a "fixer" for a powerful New York corporate law firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. Though the action takes place in the present, the movie's feel harkens back to the seventies when you couldn't be sure who was snooping on whom. Smart, intelligent movies like "The Parallax View" and "Three Days of the Condor" come quickly to mind. Both protagonists in those movies (Warren Beatty as a reporter who gets drawn into a hellishly corrupt world, and Robert Redford a translator who can trust no one, especially his bosses) come to realize that there is no acceptably ethical way to resolve the situation.
Clayton finds himself in a similar situation. His job is to "bring in" a top lawyer Arthur Edens (played by Tom Wilkinson) who's has a psychotic breakdown and is hell bent on sabotaging the settlement of a class action suit against an agrochemical company U/North. He's ready to expose the company's fraudulent schemes and in the process do serious harm to his own law firm. This is the kind of situation Clayton is good at. But this time he balks. Not only is Arthur Edens a friend, but Clayton soon finds out he's telling the truth.
Clayton's personal life doesn't help matters. A restaurant venture has gone belly up and he needs money badly. Throw in a bit of Newman's alcoholic lawyer in "The Verdict" trying to do the right thing and we get some idea of Clooney's growing sense of alienation. He's forced to look at himself and at Kenner, Bach--he doesn't like what he sees.
The cast is terrific. Clooney segues beautifully between Clayton the go-to guy and Clayton the put-upon company stooge. Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack as the co-founder of Kenner, Bach, and Tilda Swinton U/North's lead attorney, all manage to show their insecure and complex humanness.
Director Tony Gilroy, in first film as director, has crafted a smart thriller that hinges on a stunningly complex scam of giant proportions that includes murder, fraud, and a madness.
A must-see movie that should be in the running for several Oscars, Best Picture, Best Actor (Clooney), Supporting Actor (Tom Wilkinson), and Screenplay.