WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is out of favour as a lawyer and now works as his firm’s fixer. If things aren’t going to plan, he fixes them. If clients are caught with their pants down, he’ll brush it under the carpet: no-one need ever know.
But he should really think about fixing himself first – a gambling addiction, fuelled by money problems is only adding to the mess of his life.
His boss Marty (Sydney Pollack) has taken on a big chemicals firm, which is being sued in a big class action. When it emerges that one of his firm’s top litigators, Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) has had a sudden attack of conscience and is planning to switch sides and the papers have sniffed that something is up.
Marty puts his eponymous fixer on the case – pull Arthur into line or make sure he can’t cause any problems.
His mission soon gets out of hand when the client starts to put its own heavies on the case.
Mysterious deaths and exploding cars are just some of the hazards thrown his way, as Michael Clayton tries to please his bosses, keep his integrity intact and keep his head above water financially, professionally and personally.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
It makes a change to see Clooney playing a character approximating to a vulnerable loser, and as ever, he delivers a star turn – if a little more subtle and less cool than we’re used to from him.
In its themes, it’s not particularly original, tackling a class action in a far darker way than Erin Brockovich, and much like The Insider, a key character is threatening to blow the whistle.
In a sense, films such as these cover similar areas with more humour and tension, but this beats them on the pathos.
The mesh of this story is far more complicated than either of those, weaving together the murky dealings of law firms and major corporations who are more interested in their own survival than that of their clients.
It takes a while to get going, but as the plot progresses, it gets more and more clever, as the various strands start to come together.
The performances are universally commendable, from George Clooney’s combination of bravado and fragility and Tilda Swinton’s increasingly desperate nerviness to Tom Wilkinson’s paranoiac break down.
And even if the film’s a little slow off the ground – and ponderous in places – director Tony Gilroy (until now best known for writing the Bourne trilogy screenplays) delivers an accomplished turn himself, behind the camera for the first time.