Michael Clayton

  • 2008-01-16
  • by Tim Ochser

MAD OR JUST ANGRY? Tom Wilkinson plays lawyer Arthur Edens, who has gone off the rails defending a dirty client.

Director: Tony Gilroy

One of the most striking things about "Michael Clayton" is how tired the main characters look: they all look pale, weary and utterly drained.

The entire movie conveys a deep sense of moral malaise that I found extremely pertinent. Although stories of corporate greed and corruption are commonplace, "Michael Clayton" has a heartfelt sense of urgency about it that really makes it stand out. It's an intelligent and riveting piece of filmmaking that dares to scream its message out.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer for a highly successful law firm. Beset with personal problems that include huge debts, a failed marriage and an alcoholic brother, he simply doesn't have the time or energy to question what he does: like most people, he just unquestioningly does it.
But when he is asked by his bosses to track down Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), everything starts to change.
Edens is a brilliant lawyer who has, to all appearances, gone mad. He has spent the last five years working on a defense case for a huge corporate client called U-North which is being sued by a group of people who claim its fertilizers are seriously harmful to human health.

Edens turns against U-North with a vengeance, leaving Clayton in a difficult position. On the one hand, he just wants to get paid for doing his job, but on the other, he personally respects Edens and shares his disgust for the work they do.
As the situation intensifies, U-North spokeswoman Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) first has Edens spied on and later killed.
This aspect of the story was a little too far-fetched for my liking. Despite the billions of dollars involved, I still find it hard to believe that a company would be willing to assassinate someone in order to protect its assets.
But putting that quibble aside, "Michael Clayton" is a powerful and important movie. It doesn't take the easy option of depicting corporate heads and lawyers as money-motivated automatons, but as seriously confused and troubled individuals who get so caught up in what they do that it's hard for them to retain a sense of right and wrong.

The scenes with Tilda Swinton nervously preparing her public speeches in front of a mirror are a great example of this. I left the cinema feeling genuinely haunted by the sight of all those gaunt, weary and utterly disillusioned faces.

Opens in Estonia Jan. 25 , and in Latvia and Lithuania Jan. 18

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