Thursday, April 03, 2008

Movie Review: "Michael Clayton"

Starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack
Directed by Tony Gilroy

Official Web site

In recent years, George Clooney has carved out a strong career playing cool and confident characters. And on the surface, it would look like his title character in "Michael Clayton" is of the same ilk. But look closer and you'll see a man barely keeping his head above water.

It's a smart career move for Clooney, giving him a great character in an intelligent and suspenseful screenplay from writer and first-time director Tony Gilroy. The story focuses on the apparent breakdown of a powerful attorney in a large corporate New York-based law firm, and Clayton's task of trying to contain the situation.

Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, in a great performance) is the chief litigator for the firm in a class action lawsuit, defending U/North, an agrochemical company. He's also manic depressive and decides, under what he deems as a moment of clarity, to go off his medication, strip down during a deposition, and go running out into the streets. He knows the company is guilty and is simply tired of trying to defend them. This is clearly bad news for U/North, its in-house chief counsel (Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton) and Clayton's firm, which sends him in to try and reign in his longtime friend.

Performances are outstanding across the board, with the movie resisting the temptation to fall into clich├ęs or offer easy answers. It requires attention, and chooses to not paint its characters with broad brushstrokes. Clooney's character is particularly memorable, as a man struggling in debt and knowing that he's basically nothing more than the firm's "janitor," meaning he cleans up messes its clients make. But he also understands that as long as he's good at it, his job, for better or worse, will always be needed.

Grade: A-
(Rated R for language, including some sexual dialogue.)

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