Michael Clayton

 
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Written by:Tony Gilroy
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton,  Sydney Pollack, Michael O’Keefe, Ken Howard
Released: October 18, 2007
Grade: A

I enjoyed this quote from writer-director Tony Gilroy – “I heard a story about a firm involved in a huge corporate litigation that had gone on for almost a decade.  The case had been essentially settled, and the firm had prevailed.  The settlement was over a billion dollars.  Two days before the final signing, at four o’clock in the morning, a third-year associate found a document that had never been placed in discovery.  It was a very bad document, which would’ve meant a complete reversal of the case.  The document never saw the light of day, and that associate had the fastest partner promotion in the history of the firm.”

Do I believe the story?  Absolutely.  We live in a world where it’s considered acceptable to deny any wrong doing until unequivocally proven otherwise.  Does anyone take responsibility for anything any more???  Sorry, I’m going too far now.  I do believe that people are inherently good.  I just think that when it comes to legal proceedings, it’s not about right and wrong but who has the best lawyers.  I’m sure that my legal friends (and there’s a few of them who will be reading this) will be prepared to argue otherwise.

Michael Clayton has worked for a huge law firm in New York for almost 20 years.  He’s never made partner however.  That is because his position is very low-profile.  He is a “fixer”.  When clients do things that might get them into trouble, Michael sets things right.  In the film’s opening, we see him in action.  He gets a call in the middle of the night to assist a wealthy man who was the guilty party in a hit and run accident.  Michael meets the client, finds him the best lawyer and then tells him what not to say if the police should knock on his door.

Michael is about to become involved in his most important assignment.  One of the firm’s top litigators, Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), appears to have had a mental breakdown.  For six years, Arthur had been helping defend a large corporation called U/North against a $3 billion class action.  Whilst taking depositions, Arthur stripped naked and then chased a group of plaintiffs in the parking lot (wearing only his socks).

It is bad publicity for the firm but the real problem is much bigger.  Arthur’s conscience has gotten the better of him.  He has come into the possession of a damaging memo in which directors of U/North have admitted guilt.  Instead of hiding the document and protecting both the firm and the client, Arthur is going to expose it.  He doesn’t care about his career anymore – he just wants U/North to pay.

One of the founding partners of the firm, Marty Bach (Pollack), wants Michael to talk sense into Arthur.  He knows that they’ve been friends for a long time and he believes Michael can deal with this tricky situation.  There’s a lot riding on it.

Michael Clayton is an intelligent legal thriller.  There’s a lot going on in this film and my plot overview merely scratches the surface.  There are some unexpected twists and your interest will be maintained until the very end.  By the way, I loved the closing credits sequence.

It’s the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy who has had a very successful screenwriting career in Hollywood.  Gilroy was responsible for all three Bourne movies as well as films such as Proof Of Life (with Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe) and The Devil’s Advocate (with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves).  What struck me most about Michael Clayton was the way in which Gilroy has captured the essence of each character.  When you see Tilda Swinton practicing her speech in front of a mirror, you sense her vulnerability.  When you hear Tom Wilkinson open up to George Clooney on the street, you feel his liberation.

I’ve seen films with similar themes (e.g. anything from John Grisham) but I don’t know if I’ve seen one with such smartly written dialogue.  With a likeable style and a very strong cast, Tony Gilroy has conjured up one of the most satisfying two hour experiences of my movie-going year.