69 of 74 people found the following review helpful
'The truth can be adjusted' is the official tag line for this brilliant film MICHAEL CLAYTON, a film that deserves and demands audience attention to appreciate all of the layers of complexities of thought and message while delivering a slick, brooding, polished piece of cinematic art. First time director is highly regarded writer Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Cutting Edge, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Identity, The Devil's Advocate, Proof of Life, Dolores Claiborne, etc) who understands the tension of suspense films and here adds to that entertainment element the key ingredients of social and philosophical statements. It is a film that works on many levels.
Michael Clayton (George Clooney, in one of his finest moments) is a lawyer with a major firm headed by tough yet compassionate CEO Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack, finally in top form as an actor), but Michael's position in the firm has been reduced to a 'fixer/janitor', a man who cleans up messes that are always part of legal cases. Michael is cool, brilliant, but is struggling with his own demons of gambling addiction, inherited debt from covering for his wasted alcoholic/druggie brother's failure as a restaurateur, and a divorced man trying to relate to his son. When a long term law suit against a major chemical corporation comes to a head, the chief lawyer for the case Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) falls victim to the pressure of the case, and while he holds the key to the truths involved, he disintegrates into a manic depressive state. The chemical company's lawyer Karen Crowder (a brilliant Tilda Swinton) struggles to please her Board of Directors in a plea bargain that is backed by all manner of lies and crimes. It is Michael Clayton that persists in 'fixing' and cleaning up the case, uncovering a massive tragedy the company has been shielding. To say more (and there is SO much more to tell!) would spoil the development of this nail-biting plot.
Every actor involved in this film is superb, thanks in large part to the sensitive direction of Tony Gilroy. Clooney proves he is one of our more well rounded actors on the screen today, Wilkinson continues to prove his mettle as a character actor par excellence, and Swinton is so fine in this tough role that she leaves the audience staggering. Watching MICHAEL CLAYTON restores faith in just how fine Hollywood movies can be. It is sure to be on the list in many categories come Awards time. Grady Harp, October 07
103 of 121 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2007
George Clooney once again shows us the Hollywood powerhouse he is as lead actor and producer of this engaging film.
While the film is essentially well-written and extremely well-acted, it offers nothing new to the corporate thriller genre and most of Amazon's comments in their review are dead on accurate. The film is essentially a mystery that involves corporate baddies trying to screw over the little guy by covering up a danger to the public. We've seen this plot before in film's like Erin Brockovich. In addition, we have a conscience driven lawyer who is tired of defending criminals he knows are guilty and another lawyer who is burnt out from playing the firm's "Janitor" and now wants to find some moral ground to land upon. Both lawyers are seeking some kind of redemption. The first has a nervous breakdown finding it and the second is forced to find it as his life spirals out of control. This is very much like Paul Newman's Oscar nominated role in the fabulous film The Verdict.
The script is clever, but all too predictable by the final third of the film. In fact, as generally satisfying as the finale is, it is something of a letdown too. Things are wrapped up far too neatly for what was a complex film with deep round central characters. Clooney's character has his nature revealed to us slowly as if peeling a rotten onion. Each layer is ultimately unsatisfying until we get to the core which seems damaged, but salvageable. I certainly expect another Oscar nomination for him and it's well-earned here. Tom Wilkinson as the manic depressive attorney who has an epiphany that his corporate clients should not get away with what they are doing is a bit over-the-top and even stereotypical, but still convincing in the end. A supporting Oscar nod is not out of the question, but I think he would be undeserving of it. Contrary to a majority of the reviews here, even Tilda (The Chronicles of Narnia) Swinton's controlling corporate bigwig who lies to herself to justify her actions is a deeper character than most give credit for her being. Her avoidance of actually saying, "Kill (fill in the blank)" coupled with her sweating fit scene clearly demonstrates a believably conflicted individual. I would not be surprised to see an Oscar nod for supporting actress come her way. Even Sydney Pollack, sometimes director (but better actor), is very convincing here and he also serves as co-producer with Clooney. These generally terrific performances nearly make up for a somewhat flat ending.
Credit must be given to first time director James Gilroy who adapted the "Bourne" books to film and wrote the screenplay for this film. He handles his actors well in that he knows what he wants, but also trusts their instincts to deliver what they believe are their character's true emotions. His directing style in unobtrusive and that greatly benefits this particular kind of film. His lack of coming up with a more complex, less tidy ending is his only major flaw in this otherwise outstanding film that is certainly worth your trip to your local theater or Blockbuster when it becomes available on DVD.
82 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2007
Tony Gilroy has already proven that he can weave/write a great story via his writing for the "Bourne" franchise. And the striking thing about "Michael Clayton" is how Gilroy has written ironic, conflicted, complicated characters that are at once "good" (and in the world that Gilroy has created here...this is in itself a term that is up for interpretation) yet are often bad as in unethical, mean, misanthropic. These characters can and do betray themselves and others: There's no one to truly love or hate, from Sydney Pollack's quietly devious law firm CEO, to Tom Wilkinson's holy madman of an ace courtroom defense attorney, to Tilda Swinton as a tricky senior partner in nice suits that peel off to reveal sweaty armpits and a gift for rationalization. Even our hero, Michael Clayton as portrayed by George Clooney is a loser: a 12 year veteran at his law firm who is utilized as a bag man, a fixer usually dispatched to do what amounts to private eye work.: cleaning up the firm's client messes. Clayton is a failure both professionally and personally: a failure as a father, brother, husband and Clooney strikes just the right notes here as Clayton struggles, fights to regain his dignity both as an officer of the court and more importantly as a father and a human being.
The central plot revolves around a large chemical firm's responsibility for sickness and deaths in a farm community and because Gilroy weaves and bobs among the big ensemble cast and among the various plot points, I was hard pressed to figure out just exactly what was going on for the first half hour. But this is to Gilroy's credit: he refuses to foreshadow or explain thus adding texture and ambiguity to the film.
Moral and social dilemmas multiply as "Michael Clayton" races to its exciting denouement: a denouement that satisfies both emotionally and morally. Yet all is not as it seems here as Gilroy manages to leave a small festering wound of deceit and decay not quite healed: ready to re-open and re-infect itself.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2007
"Michael Clayton" is a magnetic, engaging film, with a plot so intriguing that you find yourself absorbed within the first five minutes. Here's a story that can't be defined by a single genre; while it is above all a drama, so much more is being presented. Parts of it work like a thriller while other parts work like a social commentary, and these in turn make for a pseudo-morality play that requires a little extra observance on the audience's part. And that's a good thing, simply because not all stories should make everything clear. This film is intelligent, not only because the plot relies on strategic obscurity, but also because logical thinking is needed in order to understand it. This is not an escapist film--absolutely nothing will be hand delivered to us.
George Clooney plays the title character, and he gives Clayton a restrained yet powerful presence that was truly fascinating. This is no small task, considering the direction his life is going in: Clayton was once a highly respected trail lawyer, but his talent for negotiating has reduced him to take an unrecognized, poorly paid position. He basically does the dirty work for one of New York's most prestigious law firms, co-owned by Marty Bach (Sidney Pollack). Clayton cleans up legal messes by talking directly to plaintiffs and defendants and striking up deals. Clayton considers himself a janitor, a Mr. Fix-It, a miracle worker; he bends the rules in exactly the right ways to avoid exactly the right people. When it comes to other people's problems, he's the one everyone turns to.
But when it comes to his own problems, he needs a lot of help. A gambling addiction is established, as are financial problems--he owes quite a bit of money on a failing bar, which is co-owned by his drug-addicted brother, Timmy (David Lansbury). For obvious reasons, Clayton was forced to finance the business by himself, which required him to hock virtually every item he owned. On the bright side, he has a fairly good relationship with his son, Henry (Austin Williams), who greatly enjoys reading fantasy novels. Clayton drives Henry to school one morning, and on the way, Henry raves about the book he's reading, explaining each character's significance with childish zeal; Clayton listens, realizing that his son is actually giving an insightful description of life in general. It was a brief but wonderful scene proving how casual profound statements can seem.
The film's main focus is a legal dispute between Clayton's law firm and a chemical company (which happens to be Bach's most important client). Coming to its defense is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), a litigator whose career depends on negotiating a multimillion-dollar settlement. But this will not be so easy to accomplish; attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) complicates matters by interfering with the case. He believes that the chemical company is responsible for poisoning the population, and he claims to have the evidence to prove it. Because his conscience is guilt-ridden over keeping his mouth shut, he loses his rational state of mind, becoming a manic, paranoid, and seemingly incomprehensible wreck. A severe emotional spasm was caught on tape--while at work in Milwaukee, he stripped completely naked, after which he ran through the parking lot.
Thus begins a taut, suspenseful, and compelling quest for the truth. Part of the quest leads to the discovery of Anna (Merritt Wever), a young woman who lost some of her family to the chemical poisoning. For some bizarre reason, Edens feels responsible for her, and he shows this through incessant phone calls and cryptic messages. Clayton is initially unwilling to believe anything Edens has to say, simply because he's acting erratically. But as the film progresses, he begins to question himself. Could Edens have been on to something? Is it possible that his odd conversations were more than mere ramblings? Was he sane, after all? Unbeknownst to Clayton, getting the answers to these questions will mean endangering Edens' life.
Crowder, meanwhile, is busy on her own quest, which turns out to be more stressful than she anticipated. There are key shots in this film showing her in panic mode: she hyperventilates in a hotel bathroom, her hands shaking, her armpits soaked with sweat. There are also moments of her standing in front of a mirror, practicing her speeches; most of these shots are inter-cut with actual meetings, in which a subtle yet significant lack of confidence undermines her delivery. Swinton made this character her own, turning Crowder into one of the film's most fascinating characters. A quiet desperation is visible on her face, and it's obvious that she's trying to hide it. She wants to be a professional: shrewd, capable, and strong-willed, unwilling to back down from a challenge.
The fact that I can gather this much from so few characters is a good sign. A clear, specific level of character development is vital for a film like "Michael Clayton," especially since the genre spectrum is broad. Well-defined characters make for a much more engrossing story; thank goodness this film includes a number of them. And despite what some people say, a complicated plot is not necessarily a deterrent. This film proves that some stories need to be richly detailed, if not for clarity, then for establishing the climactic finish. The ending of "Michael Clayton" is one of the year's most satisfying, a perfect blend of deception and emotional resolution. That alone makes the film worth recommending.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2007
If "Michael Clayton" didn't seem like quite so obvious a rehash of Sidney Lumet`s "The Verdict," I might be inclined to recommend it more highly. The basic premise of both films revolves around a dissolute legal type who achieves personal redemption when he lands on the "right" side of a class action lawsuit. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the best thing to be said for the makers of "Michael Clayton" is that, if they had to find a movie to emulate, they at least chose one worth emulating.
Michael Clayton is no longer a practicing attorney himself but rather a "fixer" or "bagman" for a powerful legal firm, a man whose job it is to troubleshoot or run interference for any potential problems that might arise in one of its many cases. As with most such protagonists, Clayton spends so much time at his job that he doesn't have much of a personal life going for him: he's a divorced father with a serious gambling problem, a drug-addicted brother, and a failed business that has him in hock to the tune of $80,000. One of the firm's biggest clients is a chemical company whose powerful weed killing formula has allegedly resulted in serious medical conditions and even death for some of the farmers and their families who've come in contact with it. Clayton is called into action when the lead attorney for the defense suddenly goes berserk at a taped hearing, stripping off his clothes and launching into a Howard Beale-like rant for the other side. As he delves further into the case, Clayton undergoes a metamorphosis from cynical corporate water-carrier to enlightened populist do-gooder, finding personal redemption and fulfillment by helping the common man in his fight for justice.
"Michael Clayton" is, for the most part, a solid legal thriller, serious, intelligent and extremely well-served in the acting department. The "little man vs. vile corporation" theme has been pretty much played out by this time, but there are enough twists and turns in the plot and enough decent red herrings to keep us interested at least on a superficial level. The story goes through periods of murkiness when it isn't always clear what exactly is going on, but writer/director Tony Gilroy manages to straighten out most of the confusion in time for the finale. The moody score, bleak winter settings and dank cinematography all contribute to the chilly atmosphere that permeates the film.
In a role tailor-made for his acting style - stoic yet heartfelt, rugged yet vulnerable - George Clooney carries the weight of the film on his sturdy shoulders. The gifted Tilda Swinton doesn't fare quite so well with her character - a ruthless, emotionally unstable career woman with no personal life and no romantic prospects, a character, quite frankly, that feels just a trifle out-of-date in the year 2007. Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack and Michael O'Keefe excel in minor roles.
"Michael Clayton" is a proficient, professional legal drama that never cuts as deeply or touches the heart as profoundly as one would like for it to do. Still, compared to most other cinematic offerings around at the moment, this is substantial, if not exactly sumptuous, movie going fare.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2008
I haven't seen too many American films in the past 20 years that I have actually really enjoyed. What most people view as future classics (i.e. "Titanic", "American Beauty", "Little Children", etc...) just didn't do it for me personally. So when my wife rented this one the other night, I again had my doubts after being let down so many times as of late. To my pleasant surprise, "Michael Clayton" was a fabolous flick!
George Clooney is Michael Clayton, a high-end New York attorney whose main job in the firm is to clean-up or fix messy situations. While he's been very successful in his career as the firm's "janitor", his personal life is in complete disarray (yes, the irony is a bit too overt, but this is Hollywood after all). When one of the firm's senior partners, Arthur Edens (played to the hilt by Tom Wilkinson) suffers a nervous breakdown after six years defending a corrupt billion-dollar agrochemical company (U-North) therefore threatening to compromise the case, Michael is called upon to clean up the mess and help his old friend and colleague. However, Clayton soon discovers that his crazy comrade Arthur may actually have a valid reason for going off the deep end, when he begins to unearth the corrupt cabal spearheaded by the villainous Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), the lead counsel for U-North.
Clooney once again proved to me why he is the closest thing to the second-coming of Cary Grant or Clark Gable, with a magnificent performance as the morally conflicted attorney trying to keep both his personal and professional life from falling apart. He is sans his usually swagger in this understated performance, as Clayton is a man of few words, silently suffering from a myriad of problems while doing his very best to keep his life from collapsing completely. The rest of the cast is superb as well, especially Swinton, Wilkinson, and a surprisingly excellent Sydney Pollack (Marty Bach, the firm's senior partner and Michael's boss).
While the film never strays from being very suspenseful, those of you who are action addicts may be a bit disappointed and consider this a `slow' film. It's a somber, realistic and intelligent movie that is brimming with symbolism. A film you need to pay close attention to from beginning to end in order to understand the intricate plot, so make sure you watch it without any distractions. You may even get lost in the middle of it, but no need to fret, for everything comes together nicely in the end (some people may argue too nicely, but for me personally, it works).
I enjoyed everything about this one. Writer and first time director Tim Gilroy (past screenplays include "The Bourne Identity" and its sequels, "Proof of Life", "The Devil's Advocate" etc...) paints a much more realistic and intelligent story than his past efforts. Also, the film's hauntingly beautiful score was outstanding, kudos to James Newton Howard ("The Fugitive", "The Prince of Tides", "Blood Diamond", etc... etc...) as he successfully added so much to the film's never-ending suspense and drama.
This is definitely my favorite film of 2007. I would highly recommend that you give it a shot. Five Stars!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
George Clooney plays a law firm "fixer" here. I early began to suspect that that post might be as much of a cinematic invention as "The Cooler," a person casinos presumably hire to jinx people off winning streaks. In his DVD commentary, the Director of "Michael Clayton" says he asked law firms if indeed there was such a job description as "fixer," someone who solves problems for them outside the confines of strict legal protocol. Most of them said there were "fixers," but that they didn't have any such person currently working for them. They would steer him to some other law firm that they believed used a fixer's services. That firm would in turn relay him farther on down the street to still yet another firm. And so on, always seemingly keeping him one step away. Or else the various firms said they might have employed a fixer in the past, but didn't anymore. So this job title becomes almost urban legend - something that happened to someone else, at some other time.
I would have been content to accept this fiction for the purposes of an interesting movie. What I did find disappointing though was that Clooney never actually seemed to fix anything. At least in the early montage of problems we see being presented to him to establish his role, he does nothing helpful or clever. For example, he's called to the home of one of the firm's long-time clients to help this client sidestep a possible hit-and-run charge. When Coonley arrives, all he does is tell the client he'll refer him to a criminal attorney. The client (and perhaps the movie viewer) is rightfully indignant at this lack of legerdemain. Then in the DVD bonus material, we see another scene that was cut from the final film, in which Clooney tells his former mate that he made a problem disappear. When she asks "How?" - all he does is wink.
This is frustrating to the viewer, and seems to stem from a certain amount of lazy script-writing. In the related genre of heist films, such as Clooney's "Ocean's 11," we expect to see at least one clever filching technique demonstrated along the way.
In general, it was hard for me to see how this film went so far towards getting an Academy Award. Other problems with the writing include the use of coincidence, and the use of cliché (once again the Big Corporation looms as a fictional Silkwood foe, a diabolical, ubiquitous evil).
However Tom Wilkinson's performance as the loony, but still brilliant lawyer - is truly memorable and rescues this whole movie from its sort of improbable, forgettable plot.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is a well-written and more importantly, well-acted movie that keeps viewers on their toes from start to finish. Michael Clayton [George Clooney in yet another of his trademark brooding roles] plays a 'janitor', a fixer of messes and awkward situations at a law firm run by Marty Bach [Sidney Pollack in a fine performance]. One of this messes involves getting his respected, but manic depressive colleague, Arthur Edens [a very credible Tom Wilkinson]back on track after the latter is charged for indecent exposure whilst at a deposition involving a chemical company.Arhtur's character is quite complex - he decides that his conscience will not allow him to represent the chemical company anymore, and turns out he has been working against the very people he is supposed to represent. Michael's firm is not the only one who wants Arthur under control. Tilda Swinton plays a highly ambitious Karen Crowder, lead counsel at UNorth , the chemical company being represented by Michael's law firm and is utterly ruthless when it comes to protecting her position at the comapny. Her character is played almost flawlessly by Swinton-her nervous gestures,her obsessive compulsiveness, the conflict between doing what is ethical and what is right for her, all of these are portrayed in a very credible manner.
The story really gets off the ground after a main character dies, and the action starts to pick up pace, leaving viewers wondering how everything is going to be set right, if ever.
The plot is quite convoluted, but well-written so that viewers are able to follow the disjointed storyline. The cast of main characters are all complex and flawed people, even Michael himself, and the excellent quality of acting really elevates the movie to above average.
All in all, this is a simmering potboiler of a movie that will intrigue and invite reflection.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2010
This is a good movie, one of the best I've seen in several years. Is "bad corporation meets corrupt lawyers" a new idea? No. And its been done very well before, most notably in "The Verdict".
But it's been a while since "The Verdict" and "Michael Clayton" is a lot better than similar movies in this genre. That's because, like "The Verdict" it's the acting and the writing and directing that combine to make the movie so good. It's not the plot. It's not the action (there isn't really very much) or even the sense of menace that you expect from this.
Clooney's character is similar to Paul Newman's in "The Verdict". He's backed into a corner professionally and financially, his personal life seems rather glum, but he hasn't yet hit rock-bottom like Newman's had. And Clooney does a solid job of showing the increasingly desperate and burned out guy who's still got a heart, still got his honesty, still basically always doing the right thing. He's morally and spiritually still quite a few steps above Newman's character. He hasn't quite hit rock-bottom...yet. Clooney is very good with these guys--very good at showing the inner beat-down soul of someone who's still trying to sell himself to the world (much like he does in the also very good, "Up in the Air").
And I disagree completely with some who said Wilkinson overacts. I thought the dialogue and performance were absolutely perfect (more like schizophrenia than manic depression but still, pitch perfect).
The plot is predictable, but the writing and performances are a cut above. (Plus, it's always great to see Sidney Pollock in character. I wish he did more of them).
Good movie. Very good.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
"Michael Clayton" is a truly excellent film, although it wasn't quite what I expected it to be. George Clooney plays the title role of Michael Clayton, an attorney who is a "fixer" for a high-profile law firm. Basically, his job is to make sure that everything goes right for the firm all the time. Michael is obviously very good at his job, but it's also apparent that he's unhappy. In addition to all the stress he deals with at work, Michael is divorced and suffers from financial troubles as a result of a failed restaurant he owned with his deadbeat brother.
Everything starts spiraling out of control when Arthur, one of the firm's top lawyers (Tom Wilkinson), has a complete meltdown while representing a chemical company in various lawsuits. Michael comes to his friend's aid and attempts to minimize the impact that the breakdown will have on the firm. It turns out that there is a huge cover-up to deny payments to people who were injured by the chemical company's products, and Michael tries to uncover the truth in order to put the company in its place and also find a way to redeem himself and every shady thing he's helped cover up in the past. Unfortunately, the chemical company refuses to let anything stand in its way, and its ruthless attorney (Tilda Swinton) will stop at nothing to make sure the conspiracy is kept under wraps, even if it means eliminating people like Albert and Michael.
This is a great, great film. I was pleasantly surprised by how understated it was. Unlike so many movies that feel the need to throw in an action sequence or explosion every 35 seconds, "Michael Clayton" relies on an incredibly smart script that keeps the audience thinking instead of just relying on a bunch of special effects. The cast is amazing, particularly Wilkinson and Clooney, who both deliver Oscar-worthy performances. The film also managed to make me laugh on several occasions, which is quite an accomplishment considering its incredibly grim mood. (The final Clooney/Swinton scene where Michael snaps, "How about a picture to go with it?" is hilarious!)
If you're in the mood for a really smart, chilling film that is so brilliantly unlike any other thriller out there, then "Michael Clayton" is a must-see.