MOVIE: Michael Clayton (2007)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I saw this movie (in a theater!  I saw a movie in a theater!  Yay me!), but it’s been hard coming up with what to say in this review because this film sort of defies tidy description.  At its core is a class-action lawsuit — a group of sick people versus an agricultural corporation that (knowingly, we later discover) treated crops with a chemical that ended up being toxic.  The corporation’s head counsel (Karen Crowder, played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton) has called in a private law firm to help with their defense, and that firm has assigned their greatest class-action lawyer to the case, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson). 

Things get a little nutty, however, when, one afternoon during a deposition, Arthur stands up, declares his undying love for one of the citizens suing the corporation (a teenaged girl whose parents had died from the chemical exposure, or some-such), and then strips buck naked and runs through the parking lot.  His colleagues knew he was bipolar, and he’s clearly gone off his meds.  So, they do what they always do in situations that get out of control — they call in their fixer, a lawyer named Michael Clayton (Clooney) who primarily works below the radar and spends most of his time trying to get people out of messes, usually by stretching the law almost all the way to its breaking point.  Clayton has known Arthur for years and is a close friend, so it only makes sense he ought to be the one brought in to get him back under control. 

Unfortunately, before Michael can do much good, Arthur is found dead in his bathroom, ostensibly from an accidental overdose or suicide, though we in the audience know better (we watch him be murdered in a death scene I found astonishingly original if only because it was so matter-of-factly neat — there’s something very sinister and terrifying about “tidy” murders, in my opinion).  Clayton begins trying to figure out what really was going on with his pal and it’s then he discovers something that explains everything.  I won’t tell you what that is, though it has to do with the lawsuit and, ultimately, is what leads first Arthur and then Michael to question everything they’ve been doing in their lives and careers up to this point.

What I loved about this movie — and my husband and I both described this movie as “brilliant” when we walked out of the theater, all aswoon from how SMART it was — was the way it was just like all those other class-action lawyer movies and yet, absolutely nothing like them at all.  The lawsuit itself is pretty standard stuff — we’ve seen that part of this movie a bazillion times already (Erin Brockovich, A Civil Action, e.g.).  But though the lawsuit is the whole reason for this story, it actually plays a brilliantly tiny role.  Instead, this is a film about characters — two men who have spent their careers doing things that were morally dubious who suddenly can’t stand that dubiousness a moment longer, and a woman who started out with firm beliefs in right and wrong and slides frighteningly quickly into self-serving evil faster than you can say, “Tilda Swinton’s love handles.”  The final scene of this movie is, in a word, delicious, thanks in no small part to the amazing acting chops of both Swinton and Clooney.  If Swinton isn’t nominated for an Academy Award for this role, I’ll be bitter.

All in all, this is one of the most fascinating, original, and thoroughly riveting films I’ve seen all year.  It’s also visually stunning — just the LOOK of the scene with the horses on the hill has really stayed with me, with its eerie, cold fog and crisp silence.  It was a surprising, and thus quite powerful, moment of stillness in an otherwise fairly frenetic movie. And I found the colors used in this movie striking as well.  Of course, also visually stunning is George Clooney himself — that man looks absolutely fantastic in suits and trench-coats, and I hope he never, ever colors the gray out of his hair.  Great acting, smart writing, gorgeous filming — seriously, my friends, don’t miss this one!

[Pre-Queue me at Netflix]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Michael O’Keefe, Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Van Dyck


4 Responses to “MOVIE: Michael Clayton (2007)”

  1. Lorraine Says:

    I admired this film rather than “loved” it. Some of the plot about the lawsuit just didn’t work for me. But I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes “films for adults”. I agree that Tilda Swinton was amazing (but when isn’t she?).

  2. Trip Says:

    Tilda Swinton rocks…her White Witch in Narnia was the only good thing about that movie, and her turn as the angel Gabriel in Constantine was fun as well.

    Looking forward to getting this one from Netflix soon.

  3. Alisa Says:


    I’ve added it to my Netflix, but………I’m not holding my breath. LMAO

  4. megwood Says:

    Uh oh — I predict that the week after this movie comes out on DVD, Alisa will be back here posting about how totally lame she thought it was. We NEVER agree on movies! And it’s so weird, because we almost ALWAYS agree on books. How is that even POSSIBLE?! The mind boggles.

    Sorry in advance for the fact you’re going to hate it, Alisa! But it’s not like I haven’t warned you by posting about how much *I* loved it! 🙂

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