"How do I talk to you, Arthur – so you hear me? Like a child? Like a nut? Like everything’s fine? What’s the secret? Because I need you to hear me."
- Michael Clayton (George Clooney)
Michael Clayton: I am not the enemy.
Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson): Then who are you?
At a glance: Part corporate thriller, part character study, Michael Clayton excels on the strength of George Clooney’s powerful performance, combined with the no-nonsense dialogue by writer/director Tony Gilroy.
Michael Clayton is a man whose life is spiraling down. It’s more than just his financial woes, caused by a brother who went into partnership with him and then succumbed to alcoholism. It has infected every cranny of his life, from his job to his relationships. Sadness and hollowness is etched on Michael’s face, even as he still goes about business as usual as a ‘janitor’ for a major law firm.
As his financial difficulties reach a head, the loan that he requires from the firm hinges on whether he can find and control Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), an independent lawyer and long-time friend, who, after six years of defending corporate poison manufacturer uNorth, has suddenly seen the light and has been amassing evidence against them. Just how far will uNorth go to protect themselves?
Like the fantasy novel being read by Michael's son, this is a story of a coming together of people who share the same dream. Michael’s soul-less existence as a uber-efficient corporate lackey is about to end, replaced by a much more dangerous path, where he must travel according to his moral compass and use his skills for good instead of evil.
Clooney’s face tells the story of his character – when Arthur dies, it is as if a mask has been removed, and he suddenly seems lighter, resolved, with purpose. Clooney’s face and acting carry the story, helped by great, no-nonsense dialogue written by talented screenwriter Tony Gilroy. Tilda Swinton is excellent as a corporation representative who goes over the line – the scenes where she prepares for work are simple and fascinating, revealing an insight into her soul, often without her saying a word. The movie feels like a ‘movie’: coherent, focused, intimate. It lacks the flash and explosions and tricks inherent in most thrillers, opting instead for strong writing and believable characters. It is not surprising that is has garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay (written directly for the screen).
Tony Gilroy has been around for awhile, with credited screenplays for The Devil’s Advocate, Armageddon, Proof of Life, and the Bourne trilogy. This is his first directorial role, with more to come: Keep an eye out for Duplicity (starring Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Billy Bob Thornton, and Tom Wilkinson), due out in 2009.
"With his focused, charismatic manner and a character whose control is challenged by a colleague's principles, Clooney sustains the tension in a case of corporate corruption."
- Jules Brenner (Cinema Signals)
"A poignant and powerful thriller about corporate malfeasance that reveals what it is like to face life-shattering moments.
- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat (Spirituality and Practice)
"A dark, engaging drama that asks some difficult moral questions, Michael Clayton is a classy piece of filmmaking with yet another in a long line of fine performances from George Clooney."
- Saxon Bullock (Channel 4 Film)
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Movie Star."
- Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly)