At heart, Michael Clayton is a no-name thriller

Michael Clayton

on October 05, 2007 by Kevin Courrier
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Writer/director Tony Gilroy has penned a number of intelligent scripts for movies as diverse as Dolores Claiborne , Proof of Life and the Bourne films. Michael Clayton is no less intelligent. But Gilroy thinks more like a screenwriter than a film director, which means he doesn't provide much of a dramatic flair that would give his thriller a motor. As a result, his helming debut gets so bogged down in plot that it has little in the way of suspense.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a "fixer" in a large corporate law firm in New York who tidies up messes by clients and circumvents any potentially damaging stories that could reflect badly on the firm. As effective as Clayton is at his job, though, he's reached a point where he's so burned out that he's merely going through the motions—that is, until his mentor Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has a breakdown while handling a settlement suit for a large agrochemical company. When Edens sets out to blow the whistle on his former client's corporate malfeasance, Clayton‘s boss Marty (Sydney Pollack) tasks him with bringing Edens under control. Clayton then begins to see that the agrochemical company has already started to take sinister action against Edens, and before long Clayton himself becomes a target, eventually confronting the kind of man that he's become.

Although Michael Clayton takes a different route than more conventional legal dramas like Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action , this picture does less to illuminate the relationship between litigators and clients. Moreover, it stretches credibility at its core: Given his emotional condition, would Edens even be given a case this sensitive to handle? In a film that also suffers from stasis, the actors have little character to develop. Clooney does provide more energy as the picture goes on, but Wilkinson's Edens is all manic mannerisms, and Tilda Swinton spends the movie literally posing in front of mirrors or crowds. Only Pollack appears cut loose from the chains of the script, giving one of his relaxed, off-handedly humorous performances.

For complete coverage of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, search boxoffice.com using keyword "TIFF 2007."
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack
Director/Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy
Producers: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox, Steven Samuels and Kerry Orent
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language and some sexual dialogue
Running time: 120 min.
Release date: October 5, 2007 NY/LA/Tor, October 12 exp.
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