Michael Clayton (2007) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for language, including some sexual dialogue
Running time: 119 min.
Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe, Ken Howard
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy
As a so-called fixer for a prestigious New York law firm, Michael Clayton (Clooney, Ocean's Thirteen) can't seem to fix much these days, most notably, his deteriorating lifestyle. When the firm's clients get into a legal bind, he smoothes the way to covering it up, especially the conduct of their own attorneys. One such attorney is Arthur Edens (Wilkinson, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), who goes off the deep end after spending years working on a case involving a giant agrochemicals corporation which just might be responsible for the detrimental health effects of those exposed to their product. It seems that Arthur has been plagued by a guilty conscience for some time, and has been secretly giving the opposing side confidential inside information to help win their billion dollar lawsuit (a settlement is the best bet). Clayton is sent in to fix a potentially catastrophic fiasco, but it appears that drastic measures have already been taken by an unknown party to do a little fixing of their own, most notably in wiping out anyone with knowledge of the inside info.
Quality acting lifts this rather slow-moving thriller above average fare, with another impressive character piece for George Clooney, in one of his more complex portrayals. A superb supporting cast include fine work by Swinton (Chronicles of Narnia, Broken Flowers), Wilkinson and Pollack (Changing Lanes, Random Hearts), all showing an edginess that breathes life into characters who might otherwise be too predictable to find interesting. The first hour of the film is muddled and relatively without emotional connection, but eventually, things congeal.
Although I do think Michael Clayton to be a worthwhile film for those who enjoy diversionary thrillers, this recommendation comes with some reservations. The choice by writer-director Gilroy, who co-penned the three Bourne films, to begin with the film's climax does make for an extended period of confusion, as we are supposed to spend the rest of the film putting the pieces of the puzzle together in order to try to find out why things end up how they are. It's not a huge surprise, which does make one wonder why the gimmick had been employed. Perhaps a more straight-forward approach would have done the film better service, as it's really the characters that prove to be the strength of the film, and not the details or the skewed plot structure.
It's a tepid experience much of the way, but things finally solidify in an ending that proves to be worth the wait, as we do eventually come to hope for a just resolution to the underhanded corporate tactics employed by forces of greed that know few bounds. The performances are better than the film itself, but Gilroy should also get credit for bolstering the character touches, even if his plotting and execution (it is his debut behind the lens) leaves something to be desired. As a character study, it's great. As a suspense yarn, it's lacking. As a film, it's somewhere in between.
©2007 Vince Leo