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Laramie Movie Scope:
Michael Clayton

Clever legal thriller

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 21, 2007 -- There have been quite a number of legal thrillers, most adapted from John Grisham (“The Client,” “The Pelican Brief”) novels, in recent years. “Michael Clayton” is a legal thriller that is better than most and it out-Grishams Grisham at his own game, thanks to an engaging plot, fine acting and a pleasing twist at the end.

George Clooney (“Ocean's 13”) stars as Michael Clayton, a “fixer” at a large law firm. He describes himself as a “bag man.” He runs the dirty little errands that the partners don't want to dirty their hands with. He cleans up the messes left by careless clients, greases bureaucratic palms and generally handles problems for the firm. It is a soul-sucking, depressing job that is slowly robbing Clayton of his soul. He wants out, but he is in debt thanks to a business deal gone bad with his ne'er do well brother, Timmy Clayton (played by David Lansbury). Loan sharks want their money, fast. On top of that, he has to clean up another mess. A huge lawsuit is in jeopardy because one of the firm's lawyers, Arthur Edens (played by Tom Wilkinson of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) has gone crazy and is threatening to hand over evidence that could blow the case wide open and cost the firm's client billions of dollars.

Clayton is a friend of Edens, but doesn't mind selling him down the river for enough money to pay off his debt. Clayton thinks if he can just get Edens back on his bipolar medication, the whole problem will be taken care of. However, it isn't as simple as that. Edens is off his medication all right, but he is also suffering a crisis of conscience. He sees people being cheated and suffering because the truth has been hidden from them. He wants to help them. No amount of medication will soothe his conscience. Clayton's bosses at the firm have a more permanent solution in mind for the wayward Edens. Clayton soon finds himself in a life and death situation that is far worse than his financial jam.

Clooney is very convincing as the beleaguered Clayton and Wilkinson is excellent as the manic-depressive Edens. Tilda Swinton of “Broken Flowers” gives a strong performance as Karen Crowder, the head of the law firm that Clayton works for. Swinton plays a top executive who is under enormous pressure to deliver a victory in the lawsuit. Swinton exudes vulnerability as well as ruthlessness. She is desperate to prove herself the equal of any man, but shows a great fear of failure as well. It is a finely nuanced performance. Sydney Pollack of “Changing Lanes” plays Clayton's boss, Marty Bach, who knows more about what's going on than he admits, but who tries to keep his own hands clean. The performances in the film are strong throughout. The pacing of the film is a bit slow at times and the plot is hard to follow, but that nice little twist at the end is a fine reward for a time well spent at the movies. First-time director Tony Gilroy does a nice job using multiple flashbacks to tell the story (he also wrote the screenplay, after writing the screenplays for the successful “Bourne” films). This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)