Written by the talented Tony Gilroy, here making his directorial debut (and it remains his best work in that role), Michael Clayton is a slick and nicely put together legal thriller. Whether deliberate or not, the inclusion of Sydney Pollack serves as a connection to The Firm, and subsequently a time when we had a number of equally slick films in this vein from the pen of John Grisham. The main difference is that this time around we have a main character who is flawed and not necessarily looking to make the world a better place. He just wants to do his job, wants to be paid what he believes he is worth, and wants to get enough money together to pay off the sady types that he owes a large amount of money to.
Clooney is great in the lead role, his usual cool demeanour fitting well in the suit of someone who has a few too many plates spinning than he can comfortably handle. He can still make his moves without breaking a sweat, but you can see the strain taking a toll here. He's matched by Tom Wilkinson, playing the lawyer who has the breakdown that kickstarts a dangerous chain of events, and Tilda Swinton, basically portraying Clayton's female counterpart with the chemical company. The rest of the cast is made up of solid, if mostly unfamiliar, performers. Pollack is the only other big name in among the main players (although Denis O'Hare is good to see in a small role), which doesn't matter with the focus of the film holding so tightly to the main character.
Despite a few of the main plot points relying on some major coincidences, Michael Clayton is crafted to ensure that viewers can enjoy the ride from start to finish without anything feeling far too implausible. Gilroy uses the trials and tribulations of his main character to explore a theme of loyalty, first and foremost (Clayton is loyal to his firm, he is loyal to his friend, he is loyal to the brother who ended up leaving him with his debt), and to show that people who specialise in working in areas of, shall we say, moral ambiguity cannot keep their own hands clean forever. And when that happens, big choices have to be made. Watching Clooney so effectively act out Clayton's journey to that point, and come to his final decision, makes this such an enjoyable film.
Get the Blu-ray here.
Americans can buy it here.