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This is a well-made suspense film. It builds slowly, it features the
key characters in sometimes agonising close-up, it weaves an intricate
plot (a bit too intricate, in hindsight -- I'm still not sure why some
events were included), and George Clooney is masterful as the morally
conflicted character who does his best to hold his collapsing life
together, while slowly realising that his role in life is not quite
what he thought it was in any case.
There are some things this film is not. It's not an action film ... if you expect that, it will seem very slow. It's not a warm and friendly film that leaves you feeling good about the world -- it was shot in winter, just to emphasise its coldness. It's not a comedy in any way, not even through being over-the-top. It's reality rather than escapism.
If you like suspense, unflinching realism, stories of moral conflict, criticisms of corporate America, or George Clooney -- or if you're just in the mood to see that kind of film -- you'll love it. If you're in the mood for a film to wash away the cares of the day (as I was), choose something else.
Michael Clayton is not your typical legal thriller. Oh, it has most of
the standard trappings of one: double-crossing, shady back room deals,
and a guilty client. But in the case of Michael Clayton, the film
focuses most of its attention on the questionable moral quagmire of
working for guilty clients, living your life protecting those who you
can't help but find reprehensible, wanting to get out, but finding you
are good at it and that is where your superiors want you. Michael
Clayton isn't a revelatory film, but it is a smart one that deals in
the grey world that we all live in, not the black and white one legal
films are usually about.
The central character is Michael Clayton (George Clooney), a "fixer" at a major Manhattan law firm. His job entails him cleaning up other's messes, not litigating in a court room. He hates the work, but the senior partner at the firm, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), wants him to stay in the job because he has a talent for it. Things are not rosy for Michael right now: his addict brother has run a business venture that Michael was a partner in into the ground, leaving Michael with thousands of dollars in debt; his relationship with his ex-wife is on the rocks, and into this environment comes a whole new caliber of problem: Michael's friend, and fellow attorney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who is a lead attorney for a major case for the firm involving U/North, a huge, multifaceted corporation, has discovered evidence damning to U/North, and has also, seemingly, lost his senses.
Arthur begins plotting to publicly expose U/North with this evidence, thereby destroying them, something that U/North's lead corporate attorney, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), cannot allow. Michael is called in to help calm Arthur and bring the situation under control, but it becomes quickly obvious that Arthur cannot be reigned in, and Karen begins looking at far more dire methods of containment.
When you walk into Michael Clayton, you need to be prepared for a limited amount of action, and a fair amount of talk. It is a film about words and far less exciting events than found in many movies. Michael Clayton is also not the most straightforwardly plotted film. A great deal of information is suggested through inference and requires the full attention of the audience. But Michael Clayton is hardly boring. It delves into the decisions that individuals make when their livelihood depends on living in a moral quagmire. Michael is a man who is concerned about making sure that he can make the payments on a huge debt and dealing with the sometimes annoying and reprehensible people that the law firm provides its services to. Arthur is in a similar situation, but he can no longer live with himself and the protection of clients who are obviously guilty. It is debatable whether Arthur is mentally unhinged, or simply woken up to the reality of his actions and what they mean in the grander scheme of things.
Michael Clayton is the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy, a longtime Hollywood screenwriter, who crafts a film that manages to keep you involved like a good thriller without providing many of the requisite elements: chases, shootouts and fisticuffs. Michael Clayton is a thriller that works at a slower pace, but still manages to enthrall with its developments. Critical to the film's success is its performances. George Clooney gives us a Michael who feels many aspects of his world closing around him and tries to keep all the balls in the air. Tom Wilkinson's turn as Arthur is that of a man who has experienced an epiphany, seeing the world like a newborn baby. Finally, Tilda Swinton's Karen Crowder is a woman who is all about appearance (one of her first scenes reveals her practicing a speech so that it will appear perfect) and ensuring that no one rocks the boat of U/North. She has sold her soul to the devil and will do anything to keep the company intact.
Michael Clayton is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. It requires a strong attention span and a willingness to not have everything spelled out for you. If you can provide that, then it is a film experience that will provide some rewards.
After seeing "Superbad" last weekend, I needed a grown-up antidote and
this movie is certainly that. A slow moving, adult, serious movie with
The movie has a number of themes including ageing, corruption, principles and truth. The movie's message is that there is more to life than making money.
The acting is uniformly good but Clooney is outstanding. His character is complex and he's pretty unhappy with what he has become. But it's all done very subtly. There are no obvious messages in this movie. As another reviewer wrote, you have to pay attention.
Don't read too much into my "slow moving/slow burner" descriptions. This movie is not boring. It just doesn't whiz along with one implausible twist after another. It's evenly paced with an almost complete lack of silly plot lines (there was no need for the lawyer in crisis to remove his clothes during a trial).
Everyone involved in this movie deserves praise for producing a challenging, grown-up, movie-with-a-message in the face of a torrent of mindless nonsense.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
During one scene, high powered corporate lawyer Karen Crowder (Tilda
Swinton) practices answers for a coming interview. How do you achieve a
work-life balance? The question, of course, could apply to us all.
Ideals versus the reality of paying a mortgage? Trapped in a fast lifestyle. You maybe realise what you are doing is less than perfect. How easily can you get out? (One might also ask, how do serious actors balance worthwhile projects against box-office returns. A question that seems to prompt the fluctuating choices of stars like Swinton and Clooney.)
By putting such an impasse at the heart of the movie, Michael Clayton becomes more than an edge-of-your-seat legal drama: it is a powerful psychological study that asks how far we will go to avoid facing unpalatable truths.
Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is an in-house 'fixer.' He works for a big New York law firm. He sorts out their dirty work. For instance, a big client is involved in a hit-and-run. Or bad stories in the press that need smoothed out. Clayton is good at his job. But discontented. Divorce, gambling addiction, failed business venture, loads of debt. No easy way out, even if he wanted one.
U-North is a large agrichemical company (think Constant Gardener). Their in-house chief counsel is Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). Karen wants to see off a multi-million dollar class action suit. Clayton's firm is employed to wind it all up nicely for her. But Clayton's colleague, the brilliant Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has an apparent mental breakdown. He strips off during a deposition. Then tries to sabotage the entire case. Clayton goes in to 'fix' things, yet he is gradually forced to admit how good the firm has maybe become at making wrong seem right.
Much in the tradition of Erin Brockovitch or even Syriana, this is a film that tries to attack the respected authorities while still working within the format of mainstream cinema. (More cynically, it uses high production values and scenes that last no longer than the attention span of passive audiences supposedly the length of a TV commercial break.)
Directed by the man who wrote the Bourne trilogy, Michael Clayton racks up an intelligent suspense movie out of a plot nominally too dry for mass-market appeal. It reminds us of a world of imperatives we all succumb to. Maybe we don't always stop to question our job or its ethics too closely? Finish our overtime. Get reports ready for tomorrow. Close the deal. Have some private life. Let's leave philosophy for people with time on their hands. 'Nothing to do with me.'
This is a moral-dilemma-movie that could easily have failed and doesn't. Two hours of lawyer-talk could be enough to bore anyone. But the screenplay cleverly contrasts high-intensity scenes and well-developed characters. Arthur's psychotic ranting. Clooney's impenetrable cool. Swinton's prepared polish. These are displayed in the boardroom. Or uncomfortably restrained emotion in family scenes. The high-stakes backroom card game. Or the simple, almost documentary-like portrayal of one of the plaintiffs claiming damages from U-North.
Director Tony Gilroy is in no hurry to play all his cards. By the time murder enters the game, we are so engrossed that it seems like a natural progression.
Cinematography by Oscar-nominated Robert Elswit is crucial. Right from the start, we are torn by fascinating contrasts. A long panning shot through expensive, empty offices is coupled with a sound-over of manic rambling. Suddenly the camera wanders into a busy room. An annoying reporter over the phone. And the overheard phrase, "The time is now," brings everything together in the present. Shortly afterwards, a horrific scene in which Clayton is almost killed. Then flashback four days to unravel a 'smoking gun' that can overturn the lawsuit on which lives, careers and whole firms rely.
At one point, a shadow on the lower right of the screen could almost be an audience member standing up. As it advances, we see it is Clooney. His 'reality-check' moment one with which we have been subtly led to identify then saves his life. The subsequent soul-searching and inner turmoil also provide one of Clooney's most rounded and complex performances to date. (Additional casting is spot-on, with Wilkinson and Swinton both excelling themselves.)
Clayton's ability to ask himself difficult questions is matched by Crowder's knack for self-deception. It is a frightening depiction of the legal mastery of words when she gives instructions for the most abominable acts with total deniability.
Although the overly obvious Blackberry product-placement annoyed me slightly, I found Michael Clayton a satisfying film without any of the usual over-simplified characters. Threads are pulled together a bit too conveniently towards the end, but it succeeds in never seeming contrived. If you have always put off thinking a little too deeply about where your own life is heading, it might even give you a necessary nudge. But as all-round entertainment to a thinking audience, Michael Clayton is one of this summer's better movies.
Saw this at a screening at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival.
This movie is appropriately titled "Michael Clayton" because in it we are introduced to the man in his many life roles; father, ex-husband, brother, son, friend and businessman. Some things he's good at, others not so much.
Terry Gilroy's debut directing showed a controlled and restrained hand, allowing the multi-tracked storyline to expand and grow, but always with a pull back to the core. For a fairly busy plot with numerous sub-characters, he did a good job of turning over pieces of the puzzle to bring the audience back full circle to the opening scene.
Michael Clayton fixes things, but we see in his own personal life there are a trail of problems he's dealing with. It's when he works alone that he seems to do his best work. Once those close to him come into his decision-making process, he lets emotions rule rather than his head.
George Clooney always seems to have a message in his movies, wanting us to be aware of the evil-doers out in the world. His boyish charm and general likability makes you root for him. We can relate to him.
Michael Clayton is a flawed individual who has good intentions but often gets beaten by the world and the people around him. Can't we all relate to that too? This was a satisfying suspense flick. Key to enjoying it is to pay attention.
"Michael Clayton" is the name of the best lawyer in the powerhouse
litigation firm of Kenner, Bach, & Ledeen. So good, he's not allowed to
waste himself in court; he's used to clean up the messes the firm's
rich and powerful clients cause -- and he's damn good at his job.
Problem is, it's destroying him from the inside out. At least...it's
doing so until he slams headlong into a problem that forces him to see
the decay growing within. That problem comes in the form of a brilliant
but guilt-ridden attorney named Arthur Edens, whose spectacular
meltdown during a deposition has thrown a HUGE class-action suit
against a conglomerate called UNorth into turmoil. Michael is sent to
get him back under control...or else, thus setting in motion what is,
in my mind, one of the most breathtaking suspense dramas I've seen in
Starting with a tight, stunning script by Tony Gilroy, this movie has every cylinder firing in perfect sync. The acting is, without exception, exceptional. George Clooney takes a vile human being and inhabits him with such sympathy and understanding, he becomes just another man fighting to keep his life going who IS still capable of decency. (The moment where, after Michael's son has seen a beloved uncle who's an addict come groveling for forgiveness, he stops the car and lets the boy know he's stronger than that uncle is so right and so perfect, I nearly wept.) And Tilda Swinton's litigator, Karen Crowder, is so desperate and unsure, you can almost understand why she makes some of the decisions she does. And Tom Wilkinson blazes across the screen as Arthur Edens, who has finally seen the evil within himself and wants to make it right but who, despite all his legal brilliance, is still naive enough to think he can get away with it.
The direction is taut, cinematography and editing cool and precise, and all are at the service of an elegant work that uses the suspense genre to illuminate a filthy world that has been glossed over by money and power. Magnificent in every way.
In a world over-run by corporations and lawyers, the little man rarely
wins. It takes a big man to keep that world in order. But sometimes
another big man comes along to show who really is the big man. Or is it
a woman? That said, no big man would exist without the little man - the
While you can watch this movie and see a good story develop, the story makes an interesting shift. The people become the story once the initial story has laid to bare the reason for the peoples' existence.
I enjoyed it for that very reason. The characters were all extremely interesting thanks to great performances by everyone. Clooney, Wilkinson, Pollack and especially Tilda Swinton(White Witch from Narnia) - I am in love with her acting ability. I will be doing some back-tracking to catch up on what I have missed from her. In Narnia, she was deliciously evil and in Clayton, she couldn't be any worse at being evil, but that was her character. It was fun to watch how she made weakness such a strength.
Wilkinson is such an all around great actor and makes his character seem lovable although pitiful and downright nasty for reasons I won't bring up here. Wilkinson definitely delivers.
Clooney provided the best performance in a long time. I think Clooney has long been an interesting performer but this role is just one of his best - dedicated, sometimes mysterious, loving and charming; even funny and sad.
You may look for more in the story line but you may miss the best part if you don't accept that the people are the story once the movie gets rolling.
8 of 10
I have to say that I didn't expect much of Michael Clayton. But it has
grown on me in such a way, reassuring me with it's decided desolate
aura, that I owe a review to those in a doubtful measure.
Although it starts with some idle comings and goings, the first reaction we have is to alienate with Clayton. He is battered down, morally ambiguous, suffered. If one watches closely his eyes, one can discover within how a feeling of despair takes over. Clooney is a very happy, cheerful guy: you will appreciate his work, how he lets Clayton dominate Clooney.
In here, the lawyer of the title must decide which side to take in an important lawsuit after his friend changes sides and endangers himself. Is he helping the good guys? How can he tell, deep Inside? The film carries the moral dilemmas, the strangled fight between choosing the good and the correct. Gilroy commanded a brilliant, harrowing script. But Clooney is the definite star, with his sadness, empathy. His sorrow is deeply moving.
The Grey, moisturized environments, carefully veiled with a soft mist. Clooney's interior acting, arising within his foggy emotions.
This film is not cheerful, it's somehow depressing. But it's a must see.
With previous works on similar subjects such as "The Firm," "A Civil
Action" and "Erin Brockovich," how can this one pull it off better? No
one would ever believe it can until they see it themselves. Tony
Gilroy, the screenwriter of "The Bourne" trilogy, revisits the
saint-or-sinner theme in "The Devil's Advocate" and brings an excellent
script that is full of precise dialog and intense sequences.
Michael Clayton, the senior lawyer in his firm, has fixed up many troubling cases which might not be considered as justice methods. Until another senior partner of the firm, Arthur Edens, freaked out at a hearing, the turning point of his life comes along with it unexpectedly.
Just like any of us, Clayton has to deal with many difficulties in life. Besides the handful works, there are also the child support and the dept owed by his brother. His son, Henry, is a smart kid and fully realizes the way life is. On the contrary, Timmy, his younger brother, just couldn't know how to stay out of trouble despite of having an older brother, Gene, who happens to be an officer.
The case which makes Edens freak out or just pretend to is a lawsuit involves with billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. It's not a rare affair in the U.S. and also one of the bigger ones that makes law firms make profits by helping big industries. But do the lawyers can all manage the deals without their conscience? Yes is the more likely answer.
Unlike the conscience Edens discovers within himself, the executive spokesman, Karen Crowder, doesn't care anything else but the welfare of the firm and, of course, of herself. But she is in fact very diffident due to her position and her sex. The only way she can breakthrough these odds is to make her bosses impressive.
As many have said in their reviews, George Clooney gave his best performance to date. He portrayed this role which is the key to the success of the movie brilliantly with every look, every move and every line that he has to as also an executive producer. He's a strong Oscar contender already.
The acclaimed but overlooked actor Tom Wilkinson does another great job as Edens. The reason and insanity of the role can both be seen through his limited but powerful interpretation.
It's even more thrilling to see Tilda Swinton in the cast. Very different from her previous roles which are well-known as authoritative and neuter, she dealt with a feminine role which tries to act strong but actually weak this time.
Another executive producer and the director of "The firm," Sydney Pollack, took the part which is only bigger than a cameo, shows his interest in this genre once more and being an actor besides already an acclaimed film director. Along side is Steven Soderbergh, the old pal of Clooney and the director of "Erin Brokovich."
With the constant dialog, it might fail to satisfy action-flick fans easily which it seems like one in the trailer. But as a suspense thriller, it's possibly the best one of the year or even in years. The important topic of the downfall sense of justice is a very present message to the society which is filled with the value that measured by money and power. And the gripping storytelling and the dream-alike ensemble cast shows what a good movie is made of.
As the credit shows on the right, the face of Clayton is still shown on screen which tells more about his feeling after the immense scenes he has just been through. Gilroy added a touch of realism to the ending after the metaphor sequence with the horses in the mist.
I just fall in love with this movie, I didn't see a Thriller like this
for long time, this movie is really good, I think George Clooney did a
terrific job, so as the cost .
This legal thriller was a pleasant surprise. I always expect to enjoy George Clooney's presence in a film. In this case, Clooney's excellent work is in evidence, but also watch for an Oscar-worthy turn from Tom Wilkinson, and a powerful, edgy performance by Tilda Swinton.
Michael Clayton is perfectly paced, and complex without being confusing. The director, Tony Gilroy, chooses lingering and steady shots over in the jumbled, shaky hand-held style that is currently so in vogue -- and his choice works well as the tension and drama build to a climactic, and terrific, final act.
In my opinion, if George Clooney keeps himself in the right direction he will definitely take another Oscar.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
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