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Michael Clayton - Review

George Clooney is Michael Clayton

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

EVERYTHING about Michael Clayton smacks of quality, from the classy performances of its first-rate cast to the tense, twisting script from writer and first-time director Tony Gilroy.

George Clooney once again serves notice of why he’s one of Hollywood’s richest talents, while Gilroy combines the same kind of moral complexity with expertly staged confrontations that he brought to the screenplays for all three Bourne movies.

And rather like Bourne, Michael Clayton (Clooney) is a conflicted soul, a burnt out product of his environment who suddenly finds his life threatened by the very people he was trained to serve but has come to question morally.

Clayton is a corporate fixer, the “go to” guy when things threaten to become messy for the corporations he represents. Yet his own life is a mess – impeded by gambling debt and wracked with self recrimination over the failure of both his marriage and, in relative terms, his career.

When his long-time friend, mentor and colleague Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) suffers an apparent breakdown while defending an agro-chemical corporation against a class-action suit, Clayton is called in to exercise some damage limitation.

But his loyalties are swiftly called into question when it emerges that Arthur is attempting to sabotage the case for the benefit of the victims, a ploy that places both of their lives in danger.

Gilroy’s film begins with a bang (almost literally) as Michael Clayton is called from a gambling session to ‘fix’ an apparent hit-and-run. Moments later, while pausing to consider things by the roadside, his car explodes.

The film then swiftly cuts back to the events leading up to the attempt on his life and proceeds to deliver a richly compelling morality tale under the guise of a taut class action thriller.

Clooney holds centre stage throughout and wears the look of a haunted soul with mesmerising ease, thereby providing a nice contrast to the smooth-talking charisma he’s usually associated with. It’s a performance of simmering intensity that could easily place him in the running for more awards.

But he’s matched by the likes of Wilkinson’s guilt-ravaged former hotshot and by Tilda Swinton’s uptight legal eagle, who is not afraid to resort to even dirtier tricks than Clayton to preserve her position on the corporate ladder.

Gilroy’s script may be complex and requires attention but it rewards viewers with some fantastic pay-offs.

A murder midway through is chilling in the extreme, especially in terms of its cold-blooded efficiency, while the final confrontation between Clooney and Swinton gives rise to some spine-tingling verbal fireworks.

And keep seated, too, for the tracking shot of Clooney in the back of a cab during the end credits, which brings its own subtle rewards for anyone patient enough to stick with it.

It’s an unspoken moment of genuine quality that firmly underlines the overall excellence of what has just come to pass.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 120mins