Michael Clayton

Lawyers! Huh! What are they good for? -- 3 stars

Directed by Tony Gilroy. October 2007, USA. Rated R: 119 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 10/22/2009)

“I’m not a miracle worker,” says George Clooney in his role as Michael Clayton’s title character. “I’m a janitor.” Meaning not that he sweeps, mops and buffs dorm corridors twice a week, but that he does the dirty work for Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, a major New York City law firm.

It’s Clayton’s job to convince coworker Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) to refrain from ratting out the firm’s major client, an agrochemical corporation by the name of U/North. Disillusioned, insane and guilt-ridden due to his long-term defense of a business that harms humans and animals with its products, Arthur threatens to blow the case wide open. After Clayton discovers some important documents, he begins to question whether Arthur is crazy after all. It turns out Arthur may have a point, even if he kinda-sorta happened to strip down to his birthday suit and profess his love for a high school-aged female plaintiff in a deposition room. Michael Clayton boasts great contrasting images of the macro and the micro of American white-collar business that adds meaning to the film. In quick succession, the cinematography presents us with close-ups of gyrating cart wheels, glances of gloomy office hallways and the ultimate image of modernity: an extreme long shot of a solitary ant-sized man (Michael Clayton) in a massive skyscraper. These images prompt moviegoers to ask, Is Michael Clayton really a hero? Is he a stand-out individual, or just one of a million? The conflicted look on Clooney’s face in the final shot makes it difficult to determine if the film ever answers these question.