Michael Clayton


“I’m not the guy that you kill; I’m the guy that you buy.”

After the following review appeared in the White Plains Times, I got an email from my friend Sharon — I’ll call her “Ms. K” — that spurred more thinking and writing on the subject. I’m including the review, Ms. K’s response, and my replies below. (Thanks, Sharon!)

Think of this intense drama about corporate shenanigans as

the capper to a George Clooney trilogy about duty, ethics and professionalism.

Along with Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, Michael Clayton is

about careerism and morality. Clooney’s titular protagonist is a high-powered fix-it

man for a New York

law firm representing a corporate client whose pesticides may be killing

farmers. He’s working to repair the damage done by Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson),

a high-profile litigator who went off his meds and had a nervous breakdown (or

a crisis of conscience) during a deposition. The story stays in standard

conspiracy thriller territory, but what’s remarkable is the way it’s filmed. Writer/director

Tony Gilroy keeps the camera close to all of his actors, especially Clooney and

Tilda Swinton–playing a sweaty, high-powered corporate lawyer with her own

reasons for tracking Edens down–and their intensely nuanced performances reward

the attention. Cinematographer Robert Elswit has a dazzling eye for actors’

faces, and he makes good use of the widescreen frame and the film’s authentic New York locations. It’s

smart and spooky stuff. The only misstep is a tidy climax–it’s too conventional

an ending for this refreshingly bold, ethically fraught thriller.

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