Michael Clayton is an old-fashioned movie, which means that the movie is built on a great script, great directing, and great acting. It is exciting with minimal special effects. It is tense with little or no blood or gore. It is funny without gross-out humor. There is a hero, but he is a flawed human being. There are strong male and female leads, but no love story. There appears to be some type of redemption at the end, but it is of cold comfort.
George Clooney (above, right) plays the title character, who is a cleaner at a high-powered law firm. When one of the firms big-wig clients gets dirt under their fingernails, the firm sends in Michael Clayton to clean up the mess. He’s not a trial lawyer, he’s a fixer. He greases the right skids, spins the right stories, smartens up the clients as to realistic expected outcomes, and then moves on to the next mess. He’s highly paid, but not a partner, and apparently never will be given the…distasteful…nature of his specialty. He’s a mercenary fighting for the side with the most money, and rightness and justness are left for children’s fairy tales.
And despite his high wages, Clayton is broke. He started a bar with his brother as a partner, but his brother fell off the drug wagon and took the business with him. Clayton also spends too much time at back-room poker games, and also funded the failing bar with loan shark money. This pressing debt makes it very difficult for him to see that he is mortgaging his humanity for money.
His latest mess involves one of his own firms star trial attorneys, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who for the last six years has been leading the defense of one of the firms clients (a gigantic food company a la Con Agra or Archer Daniels Midland) against charges that one of their farming chemicals kills said farmers and their families, and the company knew about it and did nothing. But Arthur has snapped his cap, stripped naked during depositions, and chased the opposition around a parking lot in nothing but his socks.
Arthur’s madness is not random, it is a breakdown brought on by the fact that while sifting through tens of thousands of documents during discovery he uncovered a report from the client’s own scientists…stating that their product will kill people…escalating the issue to executive management…and with an acknowledgments page containing the signature of the CEO. In other words, not only the smoking gun, but the gun, the bullets, the motive, the opportunity, the blood, the body, the microbes, the fingerprints, the gunpowder residue, the security cam footage, and the confession. The signed confession.
However, all Clayton knows is that the lead counsel for their largest client has gone off his rocker, and as the fixer he needs to get him under control and not jeopardize the upcoming settlement. However, as Clayton digs into the facts he begins to learn the truth, and the