Stylish Legal Thriller Ends in Hung Jury, 16 October 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
So there’s this giant corporation that creates some super-pesticide (or something) that gets into the ground water of some rural upper Midwestern farmers, and low and behold, leads to all kinds of hellish cancer (exactly what the in-house scientists warned of) that then–Surprise!– turns into a three billion dollar class action lawsuit. Six years into the seemingly endless proceedings, the lead attorney defending the evil corporation (Tom Wilkinson, channeling Peter Finch from “Network”) turns into a raving morally conflicted lunatic. In steps the firm’s “fixer” (George Clooney, somber and serious), the film’s title character, to make sense of things and perform damage control. Meanwhile, the corporation’s in-house counsel (Tilda Swinton, perfect as an unethical lawyer in way over her head) scrambles towards a fiscally feasible settlement before the truth is leaked.
Despite the convoluted legal mumbo-jumbo, “Michael Clayton” is entertaining enough, as much of it results in some well executed scenes of wire-tapping and murder. In his directorial debut, screenwriter Tony Gilroy successfully plays with some stylistic elements. Most of this occurs in the film’s editing as time-frames and POV’s are occasionally jumbled, and dialogue frequently overlaps onto scene transitions. It keeps the viewers on their heels even when what’s going is rather dry and boring. The early scenes with Swinton’s character are especially well done, as is the elliptical focus on a car bombing.
The performances are all top-notch, with the normally smug Clooney nailing the lead role with just the right amount of nonchalant star power. Unfortunately, the attempts at character development are superficial and stretch credibility. If Clayton is such a legal genius and so good at fixing problems, why does he have gambling issues and get sucked into bad business deals with his clichéd shifty brother? Clayton is also given an obnoxiously precocious son who plays into some of the film’s more literary motifs, an ailing father, and a noble cop brother (yes, another brother) who factors too conveniently into the film’s conclusion. None of these elements or unnecessary characters explain why Clayton is the way he is, or for that matter, who he really is.
“Michael Clayton” comes to a modestly satisfying conclusion, though the internal conflict of Clayton isn’t as compelling as Gilroy so valiantly wants it to be. Thanks to some stylish attempts to invigorate what is traditionally a low energy genre and some excellent performances, the film scores slightly higher than a top-line John Grisham adaptation, but still amounts to nothing extraordinary.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: