JT Film Review

78 – Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Tony Gilroy

Cast – George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sidney Pollack, Austin Williams


Tony Gilroy, first time director and seasoned writer (The Devil’s Advocate, the Bourne franchise, among others), brings a surprising sense of maturity and a great handling of character to the drama/legal thriller Michael Clayton. The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, and scored the Supporting Actress statue for Tilda Swinton’s excellent performance.

The plot is set in motion when a high-profile lawyer (played with absolute perfection by Tom Wilkinson) goes berserk. He switches sides and starts gathering information to prosecute the very company (fictional U-North) that he has been assigned to defend in a class-action lawsuit. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has to come in and clean up the resulting mess, while Karen Crowder, the general counsel at U-North (Tilda Swinton) must deal with the repercussions of an incriminating document she finds.

While movies about evil corporations fighting decent men and women, usually lawyers, are hardly new (John Grisham seems to have made his living out of such movies based off his books) Michael Clayton successfully avoids becoming just another legal thriller. Tony Gilroy avoids focusing entirely on the importance of what happens in the story, and instead focuses mostly on the character of Michael, played by Geroge Clooney, and his reactions to what happens in the story. When the conclusion happens, we aren’t relieved that the good guy has won. We are relieved that Michael will now have some internal peace because the good guy has won.

George Clooney works against his usual charm here, and portrays a man who is not all he once was, and yet also has never realized his full potential. He makes references to his past experience as an excellent lawyer, but it is implied he wasn’t as good as he portrays himself. His current job as a “fixer” is an ambiguous one, and he constantly worries that he will be replaced if the company with whom they are merging sees him as worthless. He tries to open a restaurant on the side, but fails. He tries to free himself of a poker addiction, but fails. However, when presented with a moral dilemma at the end of the movie, he does take the right path. This does free him somewhat of the burdens he has had, and the doubts that have been plaguing him about his life.

At the core of the movie is the idea of the increasingly blurring lines between ones personal life and business responsibilities, and of the personal loss involved in a successful business career. Tilda Swinton’s character brings out this idea the most in a couple of remarkable scenes (remarkable in both their writing and Tilda’s exquisite acting). We see her first preparing answers to questions to be asked in a TV interview. She is preparing herself for the day, obviously tormented by the thought of the interview. She goes over her answers over and over again, changing a word here, an insinuation there. She is almost in tears. Next we see the interview itself, where she spits out the prepared answers like a fax machine. It is an enormously successful scene.

The pacing of the movie is deliberate and measured, seemingly coming in pulses, rather than one continuous climb to the climax. In other words, it is what the average movie-goer would call boring. However with just a small bit of patience this movie presents a wonderful and atmospheric character piece.


Michael Clayton is a remarkable movie, especially for a first-time director. The cast is beyond reproach, and the cinematography and superb editing go wonderfully toward the mood of the movie. It has an insightful plot, yet never sinks into a typical message movie. It is a great movie that defies categorization. See it, then give it a day or two, and watch it again. It will not disappoint.



“Michael Clayton” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



March 13, 2010 - Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hey James. I bookmarked your site. Let me know when that W. review comes up. I’m interested in seeing what you think of it.

    As for Michael Clayton, I read other reviews, and critics loved it. I feel like I’m too “young” to appreciate it. Or maybe I was too picky. For some reason, I didn’t really “get it.” I was able, however, to appreciate the acting by Clooney, and get the gist of the “maturity” of the screenplay. I also appreciated that Clayton wasn’t some superstar legal magician — he calls himself a “janitor.”

    I liked your approach to this review. Our opinions differ, but I like the way you handled this one.

    Comment by G | March 31, 2010 | Reply

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