Michael Clayton (2007)
March 26, 2018 7:16 PM - Subscribe

A law firm brings in its "fixer" to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty in a multibillion-dollar class action suit.

NYTimes: [T]he film feels truest when Michael is grappling with his contradictions. His struggle, as well as the film’s moody thoughtfulness, the Lumet touches and the agreeable presence of Sydney Pollack in a small role, overtly invokes 1970s American cinema. But Mr. Lumet and Mr. Pollack didn’t give Hollywood its social conscience, which comes and goes and depends on the audience to sustain it. In some ways, Michael is a grimmer, compromised version of Erin Brockovich, the freewheeling legal clerk in the short skirts who leads the charge against social injustice in Mr. Soderbergh’s populist 2000 drama. (Michael has to be dragged.) The main difference is that the earlier film’s optimism feels like a faded signal from a faraway land.

Rolling Stone: Deliberate, demanding and character-driven, Michael Clayton flies in the face of what sells at the multiplex. I couldn't have liked it more. In a throwback to the 1970s, when master directors Sidney Lumet (Network, Dog Day Afternoon) and Alan Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) thought moral inquiry was part of the job, this gripping thriller simmers with tasty provocation. Kudos to screenwriter Tony Gilroy (all three Bourne films), who makes a smashing directing debut that never lets up on the tension or its redemptive purpose.

EW.com: Gilroy doesn’t just dramatize; he gives every character the equivalent of a deep background check. The scenes with Michael and his brothers, a workaday cop (Sean Cullen) and a druggie black sheep (David Lansbury), carve deeply into the conflict between class striving and family loyalty. And Michael’s failed attempt to open a restaurant, which has landed him $75,000 in debt, makes a mockery of his expense-account ease. He’s forced to get the money from the head of the law firm, and this squinty executive king is played, by Sydney Pollack, with such an exquisitely dry acceptance of corruption that, for a moment, he makes avarice look like the only emotion that’s real. Clayton knows that he’s being bought. Yet redemption awaits, in a galvanizing final encounter that gives Clooney the chance to remind you of what it looks like when a great movie star lays his heart and soul on the table.

The Guardian: The movie is not so much a paranoia thriller, more a character study - albeit obliquely rendered - showing the corrosive effect of years of swallowed disappointment. Clayton's central scene comes with a confrontation with his brother Gene, the New York police officer played by Sean Cullen. Gene's position has allowed Michael to play the tough guy with the suits and aspire above his own family roots to white-collar grandeur. It is here that the tension comes to the surface, and in which we see the cost incurred by Michael in allowing this ungrateful law firm to become his surrogate family. Michael, it appears, is neither fish nor fowl: not tough enough to be a cop or classy enough to be a lawyer. He has eked out an unsatisfactory life at the service of corporate masters who have never given him enough respect.

WaPo: Together, the cast of "Michael Clayton" performs a tough, taut chamber piece, as each character confronts his or her personal ethical edge. Gilroy has shot the film using long takes, a blue-gray palette and subdued, unflashy editing; but as formally elegant as much of the film is, it still bristles with spontaneity and muscular brio. The film's most memorable sequence, a quick, efficient assassination, is extraordinary not only because it transpires over the course of one tense take, but because it does so entirely in silence.

Such is the balance -- between the brutal and the balletic, the star and the anti-star, the glamour and the grit -- that Gilroy strikes throughout "Michael Clayton," whose clean lines and smooth surfaces are never ruptured by the wasted moment or gratuitous melodrama.

Roger Ebert: I don't know what vast significance "Michael Clayton" has (it involves deadly pollution but isn't a message movie). But I know it is just about perfect as an exercise in the genre. I've seen it twice, and the second time, knowing everything that would happen, I found it just as fascinating because of how well it was all shown happening. It's not about the destination but the journey, and when the stakes become so high that lives and corporations are on the table, it's spellbinding to watch the Clooney and Swinton characters eye to eye, raising each other, both convinced that the other is bluffing.


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The Enduring Exhaustion of Michael Clayton
posted by MoonOrb (14 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Clooney is excellent, Swinton sublime and then Tom Wilkinson surpasses both.
The whole thing is just exceptionally talented people being exceptionally talented from the incredible opening monologue to the the wonderful closing credits.
posted by fullerine at 1:09 AM on March 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best Clooney Movies

1. O Brother Where Art Thou
2. Micheal Clayton
3. Three Kings or Ocean's Eleven

I come back to this film a lot, if only for the quotes and little speeches. I saw it in theaters when it came out and the two things I remember are that I really enjoyed it and that there were like 10 people in the theater on a weekend evening. It got great reviews on release, but I think it has been kind of forgotten about, which might be due in part to the subject matter. If you start talking about corporate law, people kind of nod off, even if you throw in a murder or two.
posted by Query at 6:02 AM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Along with corporate law, query, I also think--although this is a smaller and pettier reason--that the film's title doesn't help it. If you haven't seen the film, then the title will connote absolutely nothing, only a generic name with nothing concrete to give it shape and help it be memorable. "Michael Clayton", is that the one about the Irish rebel?
posted by theatro at 7:12 AM on March 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

I love this movie. its so beautiful and sad, so well done. who would think a movie about lawyers and corporate henchpeople could be so compelling?
posted by supermedusa at 9:18 AM on March 27, 2018

I literally just made a friend watch this movie a month ago. Such an overlooked masterpiece. "I'm not the guy you kill, I'm the guy you buy!!"
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 3:06 PM on March 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

who would think a movie about lawyers and corporate henchpeople could be so compelling?

Someone who had seen Paul Newman in The Verdict. Not that Michael Clayton isn't up there on its own, but the sub-genre of worm-turning lawyers goes back at least as far as John Garfield in Force of Evil (1948), and probably before that.
posted by ubiquity at 12:31 PM on March 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is one of the very, very, very few movies that depicts the mechanics of litigation with at least emotional accuracy. I mean, there are some glitches (only 85,000 documents? must've been a slow weekend), but those boxes and boxes? Those fucking hotel rooms in fucking Cincinnati? The shellshocked junior associates? Oh, yeah.
posted by praemunire at 8:23 PM on March 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

I love this movie. its so beautiful and sad, so well done.

I really love this movie too, and it's good to hear other people feel the same way.

who would think a movie about lawyers and corporate henchpeople could be so compelling?

Putting aside murder trial dramas, war crimes tribunals, etc:

The Verdict
Class Action
A Civil Action
Erin Brockovich
The Social Network
Disclosure (kinda gross to watch these days)
Inherit the Wind (different powers that be)
Silkwood (related if not quite the same)
The Insider (kinda like Silkwood)

plus all the Grisham stuff on the corporate side (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, Runaway Jury [kinda stupid] etc...)

I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm dismayed at how little of this movie I actually remember, considering I know for a fact I adore it. I do remember it had Clooney and Swinton at peak Clooneyish and Swintonesque.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:41 AM on April 5, 2018

Another adoring fan of a perfect film - I've seen it at least half a dozen times, and if I have nothing to do, I'll watch it again, maybe even this week.
Got me to start following everything that the Gilroy brothers have ever done.
posted by growabrain at 3:30 PM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dissecting the Legal Thriller ‘Michael Clayton’ - "Chris Ryan, Justin Charity, and Lindsay Zoladz are not miracle workers, they’re janitors looking to delve into Michael Clayton, the 2007 legal thriller starring George Clooney and Tilda Swinton and directed by Tony Gilroy."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:12 PM on May 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

The representation of mania is so good. I get so angry at how bipolar disorder is represented in a lot of media (looking at you, silver linings playbook), but this... This felt exactly like what it's like, when my loved one is falling into mania. The scene with all the French loaves of bread? So, so accurate. It felt so real.
posted by meese at 6:20 PM on April 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

What a good movie! Totally not on my radar. Only heard of it because of the success of Andor. Easy to see the connection to this movie.
posted by Nelson at 10:06 PM on November 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Hah, we just watched last night because of Andor and I'm glad we did.
posted by octothorpe at 5:12 AM on November 19, 2022

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