DVD Review: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is a tight legal thriller that is everything that most of the genre want to be: Suspenseful and smart, with a complex and rather clever screenplay. After seeing it, you won’t be able to settle for the likes of The Firm and Legal Eagles (Well. Nobody really accepted LE as anything but crap in the first place) again.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a high-priced lawyer for the New York law firm Kenner, Bach and Leeden. Interestingly enough, he does not even practice law. He is a fixer…a self-described janitor whose job it is to clean up the nasty little messes of the firm’s clients.

When Michael’s mentor Arthur Eden (Brilliantly played by Tom Wilkinson) suffers a meltdown (He is bi-polar and recently stopped taking his meds) in the middle of a very important deposition, Michael is called in to clean up and get everything back on track. The client in question is U/North, an agrochemical company that is dealing with a multi-billion dollar class action suit as a result of releasing toxic pollutants into a farming community.

Michael heads to Milwaukee to clean things up, but encounters resistance from Arthur who, while freely admitting to have stopped taking his meds, insists his actions are the result of the realization that he is defending a company that is guilty of destroying the lives of many innocent folk.

Though clearly off his rocker, Arthur still has his wits and soon disappears with vital documents that might bring ruin to U/North. When Michael is not able to clean things up right away, U/N’s in-house lawyer Karen Crowder (Another exquisite performance, this time by Tilda Swinton) becomes impatient and decides to take matters into her own hands.

In addition to this, Michael, a former gambling addict, has recently had a restaurant go belly up. He now owes 75K to some folk that have no qualms about getting mean.

Believe it or not, this is simply the beginning of a tale that will keep you entranced until the very final scene.

While MC is indeed a legal thriller, it is very much a character study. We get close-up looks at some very flawed people, all of whom are struggling to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

MC has a distinct look, one that harkens back to the glory days of Sidney Lumet. It has a dark, rather muted look that matches the overall tone of the film.

This is the directing debut of Tom Gilroy. Gilroy’s previous Hollywood experiences have been as a screenwriter with The Devil’s Advocate and films of the Jason Bourne series under his belt. But none of his pervious work hinted at the skill and vision that he shows here.

The entire cast is phenomenal here. Clooney manages to deliver his usual charm, but in a more sedate way. Michael is a bit frayed around the edges, the moral ambiguity of his job taking its toll on his character. He seems to be questioning whether or not there is more to life and if he has been wasting his time and energy helping the rich avoid responsibility for their actions.

But while Clooney is good, the real magic is Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton. Both give performances that most actors could hope to have once in a lifetime.

Tom’s deranged Arthur Eden could easily go completely over the top, becoming a scenery-chewing monster, but Wilkinson gives him heart and turmoil and keeps his humanity front and center.

This was the first time I had seen Tilda, and I will never forget her. Karen Crowder comes across not as evil, but as a person whose ambition gets the better of her, sending her down a dark path from which she is unable to escape.

We get just a few extras, one being a commentary track with writer/director Tony Gilroy and his brother editor John Gilroy. Honestly, the commentary did little for me. Tony seemed so damn happy to get to make his own film that he spends half of the track gushing about his good fortunes.

We also get about five minutes of deleted scenes. Nothing too special here.

I am guessing we will see a special edition of Clayton down the line and that this bare-bones release is being pushed into the market to cash in on the Oscar hype. The skimpiness of this release does nothing to lessen the impact of such a fine film. Michael Clayton, by itself, is worth the price of this release.

Order Michael Clayton from Amazon.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.