Review: Michael Clayton

At one point in his career George Clooney was never considered a great actor. After his Oscar win for 2005’s “Syriana” and multiple nominations for his sophomore directorial effort “Good Night, and Good Luck” he became bigger than ever. His portrayal in the new law drama “Michael Clayton” will most certainly bring him another nomination. The film itself is also unexpectedly accessible for its genre.

The film is surprisingly well paced unlike most law-related films. It would be easy to assume it would be boring and unremarkable but it is quite the opposite. It tells the story of its titular character, a man who is the “janitor” of a law firm. He fixes problems no matter how tedious. His law firm, in the middle of a deposition involving a lawsuit against its biggest client U-North, faces a huge setback when one of their most prestigious lawyers Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) suffers a mental breakdown.

Michael puts the case into his own hands, trying to use evidence found by Arthur to bring down the corporation. Unluckily for Michael he is thwarted by U-North’s counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) on many occasions.

The film is held up by both its stars and its unbelievably strong script. Michael Clayton is a very layered character. There seems to be a weakness to him, but it does not affect his ability to do his job. He suffers from money problems and a gambling vice, but he still figures out how to bring people to their knees. George Clooney does a superb job at bringing this man to life. He gets the attention of both his adversaries and the audience. Clooney still infuses the character with his unmistakable charm, but Clayton has many dark sides that set him apart from other roles that the actor has played.

Tilda Swinton also does a very good job as the sneaky, scheming Karen Crowder. She is extremely vulnerable and Swinton does a very good job at showing how someone in Karen’s position would behave. There are many scenes involving Karen’s many preparations for her representational speeches for U-North that are notably realistic. It seems that Swinton really got into her character’s mind.

Tom Wilkinson is probably the most memorable part about “Michael Clayton.” Arthur Edens is one of Wilkinson’s best performances of all time. We get to witness an intense mental breakdown through his execution of a wonderful achievement on screen. The film actually opens with shots of New York City and an answering machine message from Arthur to Michael that sets up both characters. Just that simple narration sets up the tight rope of acting that Wilkinson easily crosses through the film.

“Michael Clayton” is a film that could have easily floundered with a lesser script and a weak cast. Fortunately, first time director Tony Gilroy put all the pieces together that all made a great flick, one that should not be missed. Everything is intelligently tied up at the very end. There is nothing missing or excessive, and the whole film becomes very satisfying when all of the plot points begin to click together in one of the coolest endings in recent film history. “Michael Clayton” is a serious film that doesn’t flop over, which often happens with movies in its genre and is just a genuinely refreshing piece of work.

Grade: A

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