Review: Michael Clayton (2007)

Clayton’s Depth Challenges, Provokes Viewers

We live in dangerous times where every action you take can change from ordinary to life-threatening in as few as four days. This is the world depicted in Michael Clayton, a provocative thriller about the dangers of challenging corrupt institutions.

Michael Clayton, directed by Tony Gilroy, follows the title character during the worst four days a man can experience. Academy-Award winner George Clooney portrays Michael Clayton, the “janitor” of a prestigious New York City law firm, responsible for fixing any messes the firm encounters.

After Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a well-respected lawyer and Clayton’s close friend, rambles incoherently and strips down naked during a critical deposition, it becomes Clayton’s job to restore Eden’s good name. But Edens apparent mental breakdown is not entirely what it seems.

Edens discovered a dark truth about U-North, the company he had been defending in a class-action lawsuit and was building a case against the company. Once Clayton also learns the company’s secrets and lies, he becomes a target as U-North attempts to hide its past.

Tony Gilroy, best known for penning the Bourne trilogy, makes his directorial with Michael Clayton. From the film’s opening sequence, where Arthur Eden’s seemingly irrelevant narration expertly combines with images of janitors to the film’s explosive but remarkably poetic conclusion, Gilroy creates an intelligently crafted thriller that does not disappoint.

Michael Clayton
benefits from a remarkable supporting cast that includes Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack as Michael’s boss, and Tilda Swinton as U-North’s deceptive attorney.

But it is George Clooney, in perhaps his most compelling role to date, who makes Michael Clayton a near-perfect film as he weaves effortlessly through the multiple layers of his character. Michael Clayton is a disheartened father, a gambler, a failed businessman, a devious lawyer, and an anti-hero. He challenges U-North when no other person is able too, at first to help his friend but ultimately to save his own skin.

The audience never truly understands Clayton or finds comfort in knowing that he is responsible for solving the film’s many problems. But this is not the film’s intention. Michael Clayton, instead, uses this complex and flawed character to present an interesting take on individualism, undesired heroics, and current American ideals relating to powerful institutions.

Michael Clayton is an exhilarating character exploration with relevant political themes. Its use of suspense and smartly crafted filmmaking cement Michael Clayton place as an early Oscar contender.

Published: Mount Holyoke News
October 18, 2007

Updated October 20, 2010