Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is a vague, corporate espionage procedural masquerading as a thriller. It stars George Clooney as the titular Michael Clayton, a “fixer” for one of the nation’s most powerful law firms. When one of their clients has a problem, they call on him to solve it under the table. There’s a lot of talk about how good Clayton is at his job, but when the movie opens we find him telling a client there’s nothing he can do to help him and from there he jumps into the movie’s big corporate corruption case and seems to spend most of the film in way over his head. Either Michael Clayton is a tremendous fraud, or we’re simply catching him at his absolute worst.

The movie’s big trouble starts when one of the firm’s lead attorneys, a man named Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) goes crazy and strips in the middle of one of his most important depositions. Clayton is sent to find out what happened and finds Arthur wracked with guilt. He’s in the midst of defending a company called U/North from a massive class action lawsuit, but decides in mid-stream he’s on the wrong side. Michael refuses to believe there’s actually a problem, insisting instead that Arthur is simply off his medication.

Things slowly spiral out of control, there’s a fuzzy allusion to some sort of wrongdoing on U/North’s part which drives Arthur to switch sides. Caught in the middle Michael wanders through the film more concerned with his personal problems than his job, while things get worse all around him, or so it appears. The problem is that none of it’s very interesting. It’s never quite clear what U/North has done that’s so heinous, there’s a lot of talk about failed small farms and messed up testing, but there’s never a good reason to care about any of that it. It’s also hard to root about Michael, since he’s just not all that interesting. He’s a recovering gambling addict, he has a kid, he’s in debt, so what? He has problems. Great. What’s the point? Michael ends up being kind of a do nothing with dubious and unclear morals. Clayton’s idea of “fixing” seems to be leaving a lot of messages on his client’s answering machine. Anything else he accomplishes is mere happenstance.

There is no point to Michael Clayton,it’s a corporate mystery movie with nothing to latch on to. The film’s plot unfolds slowly and deliberately while Clooney grimaces and strides through the film with false confidence and that’ll probably be enough to convince critics that this is a smart, well-crafted thriller. It’s also a really boring thriller, one without any thrills, a film where even a car bomb is kind of a dud. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve had it with lawyers. Money hungry men in nice suits stopped being cool in 1982, and Michael Clayton doesn’t do enough to bring it back again.

Josh Tyler