A probing, subtle thriller with a lawyer "adjusting the truth", Michael Clayton boasts a strong cast led by George Clooney, Oscar-winner for Syriana.
A steadfast team player at a Big Apple law firm with much pull, Clooney's Clayton looks at himself "as a janitor, not a miracle worker".
The story by scenarist Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Ultimatum), making his directorial debut here, involves a valued, yet ignominous colleague (Tom Wilkinson). His flip could cost the firm a muli-million dollar settlement. The top brass sends a no-nonsense snake of an attorney (Tilda Swinton) looking to clean up the mess. It's about more than cleaning up a very messy situation. Really about "fighting for the truth."
The action is adroitly kept on low heat, working in a gradually taut, revelatory way. One gets the notion that the characters will do what is necessary to keep on top of things, often in a clandestine manner. This allows the viewer to see how well the characters immerse themselves in their roles.
Clooney makes one sympathize with his weary, haunted state, and it's often reflected in his visage. An off-center coolness to Clayton trying to put himself on higher ground through new priorities. Definitely in contrast and more dense in emotion than when he acted in the Coen Brothers dark comedy opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones. Swinton allows a modicum of vulnerability to seep through a coarse, scary lady, and Wilkinson paints a nice understated finish who camoflages his edgy insecurity. Effective support also is provided by Sydney Pollack, Ken Howard, and Michael O'Keefe, among others.
Michael Clayton may not promise much from someone running scared through a forest, but it unfolds as a conspiracy drama with a certain refreshing lush integrity. And, Gilroy gets the most out of Clooney who may agree that it's his most complex role to date. In a movie that hits home, professionally, especially halfway through.