- Written and directed by Tony Gilroy
Think of Michael Clayton as the flip side of Erin Brockovich. This time, the hero works for a law firm defending an evil corporate giant from the people it has poisoned. And no, youâ€™re not supposed to root for him winning his case. (Thereâ€™s an actual connection between the two movies. Brockovich director Steven Soderbergh executive-produced Michael Clayton).
But where Brockovich is an inspiring tale of a true-life working-class heroine, Michael Clayton is a totally fictitious thriller. George Clooney plays the title character, a fixer for a big New York law firm. When something goes wrong–say, a client is involved in a hit-and-run–heâ€™s the first guy on the scene.
This time the mess gets really ugly. The head lawyer in a huge litigation case (Tom Wilkinson) goes off his meds and develops a conscience. Clayton must get the guy under control or billions could be lost. In true thriller fashion, the plot twists in surprising ways, peopleâ€™s lives are in danger, and itâ€™s not always easy to tell the friends from the enemies.
Writer/director Tony Gilroy has written other thrillers (including all three Bourne movies), yet he seems to have trouble with the form’s construction. The plot leaks with holes. A man locks himself in a hotel bathroom, then escapes through a bedroom window, leaving the bathroom locked from the inside. Extremely competent professionals make surprisingly stupid mistakes when the plot demands it. Weâ€™re told the outcome of the movieâ€™s big third-act suspense scene in the first few minutes of the picture.
So why did i give this thriller a ?
Acting and character. Gilroy wrote several complex, interesting people into his thriller, then cast them to perfection. I’m not just talking about Clooney and the always-dependable Wilkinson. Tilda Swintonâ€™s corporate lawyer reeks of unprincipled ambition, but also of private insecurities. And Sydney Pollack gives another solid performance as Clooneyâ€™s boss–a decent man whoâ€™s compartmentalized the evil in his work. The world, I suspect, is full of people like that.
I also suspect that Gilroy wanted to explore such characters more than he wanted to put together a perfect thriller. I canâ€™t say I blame him.