Movie Review: Michael Clayton
By Matthew Huntley
October 27, 2007
Who is Michael Clayton? That's what the titular character wants to know. At 45, Michael is broke, divorced and inextricably linked to a job he doesn't feel good doing. He feels underappreciated and morally torn. It doesn't help that some people also want him dead.
What's ironic is that Michael Clayton is a genuinely decent man and very good at what he does. But nobody sees or know this but the audience. Whereas the rest of the characters in "Michael Clayton" only look out for themselves, Michael is a victim because he actually cares for other people and stops to think about what he does, so much that it's starting to hurt.
It's been a while since I've been so enveloped by a film, but "Michael Clayton" hit me on every level - physically, mentally, emotionally. The story and characters find perfect sync, and the acting, directing, writing and editing work in the classical sense to completely involve the audience in its dirty world. "Michael Clayton" is sure to become a classic itself, perhaps even set new standards.
George Clooney, in the very best performance of his career, plays Michael Clayton, who's not exactly a lawyer for one of the world's leading law firms, but more a facilitator for its partners and their clients. "I'm not a miracle worker, I'm a janitor," he says. That is to say, it's his job to clean up other people's messes, although he's not proud of it. He's tired, angry and disillusioned because his job has made him forget the beauty and innocence that can still be found in the world. Michael wants out. He's just not in a sound financial state to leave.
The firm Michael works for, Kenner, Bach & Leener, is currently defending a class action lawsuit against a leading agrochemical company called U/North, and the case takes a bad turn when the leading defender, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), strips down naked during a deposition. Arthur is a manic depressive with a chemical imbalance, which he's kept under control, but he's stopped taking his medication. Now he's anxious, incoherent and speaks of crazy things like being Shebha the Goddess of Death.
Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is about to take over as U/North's in-house chief counsel and she needs the class action suit to disappear. But Arthur's stunt has disrupted the case and could potentially sabotage Crowder's career. Why would Arthur do such a thing? Because he believes himself to be evil and feels ashamed to defend a company he now thinks is guilty. U/North is accused of releasing a poisonous weed killer into a town's water supply.
Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) asks Michael to rectify the situation, which could potentially cost his firm millions. At first, Michael is reluctant to believe Arthur and his cockamamy stories, but even so, we see the moral dilemma Michael finds himself in. If he's not loyal to the firm, he could lose all his assets and equity (he's already in deep because he invested in a bar that just went under). Yet, if he's not loyal to his friend Arthur, he could lose himself entirely.