Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer. He’s the lawyer you call when everything has gone to shit. He’s the guy you buy. Some call him a miracle worker and get pissed if he’s anything less. But it’s going to take a man gone crazy off his pills to get Clayton to realize that those who call him dad and brother matter most.
The opening of the film is actually closer to the end, then it backs up four days earlier to show how it got to that point. Keeping that in mind and realizing that the voice we hear in that opening, intriguing monologue on Michael’s voicemail is Arthur’s are key pieces that are essential for understanding the plot.
Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) is a lawyer working for UNorth, a crooked agrochemical company that poses as environmentally friendly. For the past six years he’s been working on a three billion dollar lawsuit and trying to cover up the fact that UNorth’s chemicals are toxic. He has a nervous breakdown where he starts ranting and strips naked in the middle of a meeting. It’s caught on tape. UNorth hires Clayton to fix the damage that Arthur has done to their company, but maybe it wasn’t just a nervous breakdown, but a rebirth of morality.
Unfortunately for Michael, the Arthur situation isn’t the only thing he’s worried about. He’s gambled so much that he owes a loan shark eighty grand to cover his alcoholic brother’s debts and his son (who thankfully seems pretty smart) needs a male figure to look up to.
Now, my husband saw this when it first came out and complained that he didn’t enjoy it. I think he was looking for a movie to just veg out to for a while; that doesn’t work well for Michael Clayton. I wouldn’t exactly call it a thinking movie, but it does contain more intelligence rather than cheap entertainment. And like I said earlier, if you don’t process that opening, it’s easy to be lost for the rest of the movie.
Michael Clayton was nominated for about as many awards as it could be. Pretty much all the big awards, except editing. George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson are nominated as lead and supporting actor, but it is Tilda Swinton who takes home the film’s only Oscar for best supporting actress. Her portrayal of Karen, the high stakes, corrupt business woman for UNorth is astounding, especially from that first unflattering shot of her profusely sweating in a bathroom stall.
Who would enjoy Michael Clayton? If you’re a fan of George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson or Tilda Swinton, this should be on your list. If you enjoy morality lawsuit movies, I encourage this. But if you’re looking for something to kick back and let your mind turn to mush for a while, you won’t get anything out of this film. Pick up The Men Who Stare at Goats instead.
“I am Shiva, the god of death.”