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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2007!
Directed by Tony Gilroy
An attorney known as the Fixer in his law firm comes across the biggest case of his career that could produce disastrous results for those involved.
Michael Clayton is the “fixer” in a large New York law firm sent to control the bizarre behavior of the company’s top litigator. As he uncovers dark secrets behind the people his law firm is defending, Michael must choose between loyalty to his job and to his values.
Michael Clayton, the movie, is a surprisingly good film, surprising because the low-key realism in which this thriller unfolds is as effective a nail-biter as the fast-paced action of Bourne Identity. Tony Gilroy wrote the screenplays for both. Michael Clayton, which features a stunning cast headed by George Clooney in the title role, is Gilroy’s first film as director. Yet both Michael Clayton and the Bourne franchise films (Gilroy wrote all three) follow a main character in the throws of emotional and moral dilemmas. Jason Bourne is the company assassin who loses his memory and must fight his employer to gain back his identity. Michael Clayton is the company hack dependent on his firm to pull him out of personal bankruptcy who must destroy his firm’s biggest client to regain his self-worth.
A three billion dollar class action lawsuit has been launched by hundreds of farm families against U-North, a major agribusiness, claiming that its weed-killer is a carcinogen responsible for many deaths and illnesses. U-North has engaged Michael’s law firm and its chief counsel Arthur Eden (Tom Wilkinson). But Arthur has a mental breakdown in the middle of a Milwaukee deposition and Michael is sent to fetch Arthur, to get him medical help, and to set things right with the firm’s nervous and largest client.
But Arthur won’t be corralled or put back on his bi-polar meds, believing that he has had a revelation: the farmers are right, U-North has wronged them, and he has been the agent of that evil. When Michael tells him he has a job to do, Arthur asks Michael if this is what Michael had imagined for himself, to be a fixer, a janitor, sweeping up the misdeeds of others? Arthur says that he can’t be that person any longer.
Tilda Swinton received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Karen Crowder, the tense in-house counselor for U-North, who slides off the moral ledge when she realizes that Arthur is bent on destroying the case for U-North and hires two private detectives to murder Arthur and make it look like suicide.
When Michael hears of Arthur’s death he is with his boss (a marvelous final role for the late Sydney Pollack) who hands him a check for the $80,000 bonus he had earlier requested to repay the loan sharks for his failed bar; now, by accepting the money, Michael is being asked for his continued loyalty to the firm and its clients. When he becomes curious about Arthur’s death, Michael risks his reputation, his job, and his life to find the answer.
Recollecting the film, I thought it had been shot in black and white but of course it had not; the color palette had been toned down by wintery light, monochrome suits, and dark cars to evoke the documentary mood and moral starkness of the story. Some early reviewers were convinced the film was based on a true story, a tribute to Gilroy’s ability to nail down the details of real life: the conversation at a gambling den, the selection of a side-split family home, the complexities of the fantasy book loved by his ten year old son, and the phenomenal casting even in the small roles. Watch Merritt Wever, a 27 year-old New Yorker, portray a teenage mid-western farm girl. Or Denis O’Hare as the client in a rage of denial about his own wrongdoing. But the big delight is watching George Clooney in the best role of his career. In the third act jump-start to the movie (much of the movie that follows flashes back to the previous four days) Michael, who has been driving at dawn through rural Westchester County, stops his car to look at three untethered horses. He has just left the home of a wealthy client who had fled the scene after hitting a man with his Jaguar and we had caught a glimpse of Michael’s twilight legal world. Clooney’s Michael is a lost man, his face stamped with misery and moral compromise as he searches for solace in the innocent beauty of these three horses.
Then his car explodes and we are blown into the story.