Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
George Clooney can be a very engaging actor. He is also capable of being an even better director, witness his two films so far: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck These films reveal him to be an exceptional craftsman behind the camera.
Unfortunately, Michael Clayton, Clooney’s latest outing as an actor and co-producer, is nowhere in the league of those films. It’s not necessarily a bad film, as it’s well made and has a terrific cast. It’s just that it seems to be an exercise in “déjà vu all over again.” If you’re a fan of intelligent thrillers, and know the recipes, you’ll recognize a cup of Erin Brockovich, a pinch of The Firm, a tablespoon of The Conversation, and a dollop of The Verdict and Three Days of the Condor in this stew.
Michael Clayton is a “fixer” in a prestigious law firm. His job is to put out fires before they become explosions. Clayton’s not a partner, and doesn’t argue cases in court. He works under the radar to accomplish what’s needed on behalf the company’s clients. One of the firm’s key litigators has flipped out and is wreaking havoc with a major class action lawsuit involving a big company allegedly causing ecological damage in a small farming community. In trying to contain the situation, our hero discovers more about the case than is healthy for himself and those around him.
Clooney is ok as Clayton, although we see way too much of him stalking the scenery looking glum. He walks, he thinks, he inquires… all of which stretch the running time to excess. The brilliant British actor Tom Wilkinson plays the litigator who is determined to expose the case for what it is. His performance, while not quite bordering on parody, is reminiscent of Peter Finch’s Howard Beale in Network…a raving lunatic who speaks the truth.
Another Brit thespian, Tilda Swinton, is the corporate attorney on the other side of the fray. She is always amazing to watch on screen, and this role is no exception. In films as varied as The Deep End and The Chronicles of Narnia, she inhabits a character so that we believe she is who she appears to be.
The director Sydney Pollack has the thankless job of portraying the head of the law firm, a job—and a role—he can do in his sleep. Perhaps he might have been a better choice to direct Michael Clayton, given his success at helming such legal thrillers as An Ansence of Malice and the aforementioned The Firm and Three Days of the Condor.
Tony Gilroy makes his directing debut here, after having penned the screenplays for all three Bourne films. He needs a little more apprenticeship, but has the makings of a decent writer-director.
Despite having one plot point that is almost laughable, no particularly likeable characters, and running at least fifteen minutes too long, if you like this kind of film, and if you like George Clooney, then Michael Clayton is certainly more watchable than the continuous barrage of low-brow tripe churned out by the studios on a weekly basis.