Saturday, December 24, 2016

Michael Clayton Movie Review

Michael Clayton (2007)
Rent Michael Clayton on Amazon Video
Written by: Tony Gilroy
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Starring:  George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack
Rated: R

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

A law firm brings in fixer Michael Clayton (George Clooney) to stop a lawyer from divulging information on a case involving a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against a chemical company.

This does so many things right, and it could easily be just an average movie, but Gilroy developed a great script and cast the right people.
It's a smart legal thriller, revealing duplicitous law firms and companies. This is a thriller not built on action scenes and car chases, but the lengths people will go to cover up their crimes. These characters aren't simply good or bad, they're motivated by personal need.
Watch it.

While I typically don't like the How We Got Here trope, it works better in this movie because it serves to establish just who Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is. Of course it does add excitement with an explosion, before flashing back to four days earlier.
According to Clayton, "I'm not a miracle worker, I'm a janitor." He fixes problems and in the first scene we see he's adept at it. A client of his law firm has been involved in a hit and run. Clayton knows his limitations and it's clear this isn't his first rodeo.

Clayton is a disinterested father, in debt to a loan shark because he's protecting his drug addicted brother. He's good at his job which is getting rich people out of trouble.
When his colleague Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) flips out during a deposition, putting a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against his client, chemical company U-North, in jeopardy the firm sends Clayton.

This movie pulls back the curtain on what we suspect happens at law firms. Companies go to great lengths to cover up misdeeds and save money. Clayton is the guy that greases the wheels and makes sure companies can continue to screw over the consumer. He knows what he is. He's a morally gray character that isn't championing the common people in this movie, he wants revenge for what U-North did to his friend and attempted to do to him, but he's not above being bought.
U-North general counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) has her own fixers that are attempting to correct the situation. Tilda Swinton won a Best Supporting Actress award for this role.

This may be the pinnacle of the lawyer-action dramas popular in the nineties. It's a tightly wound script that doesn't rely on tropes. Smart writing forces you to pay attention. Clayton becomes suspicious when he discovers U-North was planning a settlement, yet Arthur was scheduling a meeting with a plaintiff. This movie doesn't have a character telling you why that is incongruous, but if the settlement is in place there would be no need to meet with a plaintiff.
Clayton isn't the clear cut hero. He needs money to settle a gambling debt, and when his firm offers to give him the money he needs if he keeps quiet, he accepts. Clayton admits he's not a guy you kill, he's a guy you buy.
Arthur is the only character upset about the crimes U-North is committing. Clayton doesn't care about that, he's vengeful. He does the right things, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

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