It takes some real
confidence for a filmmaker to name a movie Michael Clayton.
After all, that title tells
a prospective audience absolutely nothing about what they are getting
themselves into. Is it a drama? A comedy? A horror film?
Sci-Fi? A documentary? A cartoon? Art film? A musical? Porno?
An industrial training movie?
It's not like it's even a
familiar designation – people have never heard of Michael Clayton
fact it is the name of a fictional character. Yeah, there is a
football player with the same name, but are they really likely to name a
movie after him?
You just know there was
some studio suit trying desperately to get them to change the title to something
which would work better on a movie poster – something snappy that they can
If you are going to give a
picture a non-descript name
like this, you better be planning to bring your A game or it will
fade away quickly.
Well, to his credit,
writer/director Tony Gilroy (who had also written the Bourne movies)
has met the challenge. Michael Clayton is one of the best
dramas of the year.
Clooney – who just keeps
getting more nuanced and risky as an actor – plays the title role.
Clayton is a legal fixer, the guy at a huge law firm who makes the really
dirty cases fade away.
At different points in the
film, the lawyer refers to himself as a janitor or a bagman. Both are
legit descriptions, Clayton is not a trial lawyer per se (not that he
wouldn't love the opportunity to be a more traditional lawyer), but he knows
where the bodies are buried and where the dirt is. He is able –
through just slightly morally ambiguous means – to cover up the most
Of course, his life is
every bit as messy as any of his cases. He is divorced. He is a
recovering gambling addict. He has just blown his entire nest egg on a
failed restaurant with his alcoholic brother. He is feeling insecure
about his career and just vaguely guilty that he is doing
lowest-common-denominator law – particularly since he is a former DA who
took his current job for the money.
His latest project (it's
hard to actually call it a case – he is really just trying to plug a leak
in another lawyer's job) is just making his doubts all the more immediate in
his life. An older lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) for the firm – sort of a
more senior equivalent of his hatchet man – is working for a huge
corporation called uNorth which is in the middle of a class-action suit that
they may have dumped harmful chemicals on a small town, bringing illness and
death to the place.
The lawyer in charge seems
to have cracked, he strips in the middle of negotiations and starts ranting
about his client's guilt. However, is he insane or is he finally
seeing the light?
Clayton is assigned to
babysit the older lawyer as the firm and the corporation circle their
wagons. However, it becomes more than just a simple spin-control
situation as more and more cracks appear in the case and subterfuge goes on
behind the scenes.
Michael Clayton is a
smart, cynical, surprisingly moving film. It works on several levels
at once and is never less than fascinating. In a world where big
business appears to be running amok, this is a stunning warning shot over
the public's bow.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 24, 2007.