Review by Gary Dean Murray


George Clooney is having an interesting career.  Since his breakout from TVís ER, he has gone back and forth between art house and Cineplex.  With every Oceanís film, there is a Good German.  He rides the electric rails between box office blockbuster and indie cred while never falling onto that shocking third rail.  His latest film that combines elements of both worlds is Michael Clayton.  It is easily his best shot at getting an Oscar and one of the strongest films of the year.
  The movie begins like a jigsaw puzzle.  The pieces are all over the place just not put together.  Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a Ďjanitorí, a fix-it guy used by his firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen's to figure out the right angle to make problems go away.  And does his firm have a problem.  They represent U North, a pesticide company in a three billion-dollar class action suit.  The lead attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) became a crazy man at a deposition, stripping down and ranting.  It seems that he needs his medications to keep focus.  But by not being on the pills, he gets an insane moment of clarity both about his life and the case.  He sees himself as Sheba, the Destroyer.  And he is having secret conversations with the victims of the class action suit.  All this spooks U Northís lead lawyer Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), herself a frail bird in a world of lions.  She is worried about the firm that is representing the case, employing nefarious people to keep tabs on the litigation team.  She wants the suit settled and over, without going in front of a jury.  There are ghosts in her closet.

Michael has a few demons of his own.  He is an addictive gambler and is 80 Gs in debt with some very unsavory characters.  He hates his job, even though he is very good at it.  With a loan from his boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) he is indebted to the firm.  Since he has to figure out what is going on with the U North cast; Michael Clayton is almost our Sam Spade, an investigator out of his league.  The film goes along while Michael (and the audience) finds out the truth behind U North and Arthur Edens and how far Karen Crowder will go to fix her problems.  In easy to understand terms, Michael Clayton is equal parts thriller and political statement with a character study thrown into the mix.

   To begin with, the supporting characters are all Oscar worthy.  Tom Wilkinson gives his Arthur a soul, something missing from most lawyers.  His face is heartbreak past the point of saving.  Tilda Swinton is not afraid to show herself in an unflattering light.  She is a trapped person trying to do any and everything just to save herself.  It is desperation to the nth degree.  Director/writer Tony Gilroy takes threads of plot and pulls them together to make a picture.  He juggles time and character while never losing his focus.  It is an amazing job of complex storytelling.  He keeps one on the edge of the seat without gunplay and car chases.  By and large, the biggest praises have to go to George Clooney.  His Michael Clayton is a flawed and fragile individual but one with a fire smoldering inside.  By realizing the difference between what is right by the client and right by the world, he develops something he had lost, a conscience.  One little point, by doing what he does at the end (no spoilers here); he would more than likely be disbarred.  This film is already making some of the top ten criticís lists months before they are released.  It easily is one of the top films of the year and an early Oscar contender.   George Clooney may actually get that coveted stature with Michael Clayton.


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