Movie Review: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is gritty, divorced, forty-something gambler, who works for one of New York's most prestigious law firms as a fixer. When one of the high-priced clients of his law firm gets into trouble, Michael Clayton, son of one cop, and brother to another, cleans up the mess.

How did a Catholic school graduate, and former criminal prosecutor come to use his skills to cover up corporate evils?  He seems immune to his distasteful job, which he calls ‘the janitor', as he dispassionately conspires with a wealthy client who is guilty of hit and run. Michael calmly weighs his client's options, and having covered for another scoundrel, winds his way home through the wooded hills at dawn. Why does the sight of three horses looking out over a hilltop cause him to leave his car, and approach them, with a look of dreamlike wonder?

George Clooney's riveting performance as the man who keeps everyone's secrets, and covers their sins,  keeps you watching his every move, wondering just how he got stuck in the  role of fixer. Is it the $75 million he owes the bank for the bar he opened with his junkie brother, or his shady back-alley card game partners?  Kenner, Bach, and Leeder, the firm he works for is in trouble, as we see in the opening scene, a 6 billion dollar class action lawsuit against their client, U North, a chemical company which made a weed killer which is being blamed for the death of hundreds of farmers, is suddenly willing to settle a case. The in-house counsel, Karen Crowder, is desperate to save her company's reputation, but just how far is she willing to go?  Tilda Swinton plays a ruthless Karen, a woman who sacrificed a personal life for high powered position.

Michael receives an emergency call to fly to Milwaukee, where attorney Arthur Edes, played by Tom Wilkinson, has "lost it" in a deposition, stripping down to his socks, and siding with the plaintiffs of the U North lawsuit. He calls himself a "conspirator," and is putting his firm's high profile case into a tailspin, Michael is sent to quell his symptoms and keep the scandal from spreading. Why does Arthur suddenly snap after handling this despicable case for years without a qualm, and just what keeps him in intense conversation one night with Michael's ten year old son?

A tale of corporate crisis which forges character, Michael Clayton resembles but falls short of the superb craft of a similar film "The Devil's Advocate". It is told out of order, with flashbacks, which serves to keep the audience on their toes, adding up the clues till the conclusion.  It tweaks the consciences of corporate types who have lost touch with the real-life ramifications of their wheeling and dealing.

I watched it in a theatre packed shoulder to shoulder with retired Wall Street types. A solitary view of a pristine Midwestern farmhouse in the fresh snowfall, and an ordinary policeman's home seem places of peaceful solace in contrast with the darkness of corporate wrangling. The simplicity of the people there imbue this dark world with hope that the answer is simply one of righting the harm done. But is it too late for fixer Michael Clayton able to see this?

A dark corporate drama with a masterful Sydney Pollack as Marty Bach, Senior Partner of the firm, Michael Clayton is a morality tale for Wall Street. Powerful cinematography and a tense soundtrack lend a gothic ambiance to Michael Clayton.

The R rating is for the adult nature of the movie, and a graphic sexual reference, brief scene with a woman in her underwear.


Mother to three daughters and a Literature instructor, Leticia has always loved writing, good literature, and classic films. She became a blogger in 2006, and began to include film reviews on her blogs, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, and Cause of Our Joy Suddenly Leticia was thrust into the world of film criticism when Eric Sheske of the National Catholic Register mentioned her blog as a source for Catholic film reviews. The next day, an invitation arrived to attend a film premiere in Hollywood, which she accepted, and a film critic was born. Leticia began Catholic Media Review to guide parents in their decisions on whether to let their children see a particular film. She also promotes independent family films like “Bella”, and “Fireproof” so that they can reach a larger audience. Her goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture to what Pope John Paul II called a “Culture of Life”. She realizes that the pivotal role the media has to play in this transformation, and is determined that those who would defame Christ’s message do not have the last word. She writes film and book reviews for the following publications: MercatorNet, Catholic Exchange, Catholic Online, and “National Catholic Register”. Her reviews have been posted at the websites of Reuters, IMBD, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, and various TV news stations.

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  • Guest

    Thanks for the excellent review. There was one point that I remember seeing differently. With the wealthy hit-and-run driver at the beginning, Michael doesn't "cover up" like he had done in the past. He seems to have already reached the point in life where he's questioning what his life is really all about. He refuses the driver's demands to cover up the incident and he basically tells the driver "You did something really wrong- you'd better get a good defense attorney." In that sense I felt it would have been good to have another prior scene, maybe a flashback or something, that would have shown how Michael was before when he really was a cleanup man almost without conscience. Michael's interactions with his son struck me as a particularly powerful witness of how he's lived his life with the wrong priorities.


    The other point is Michael does owe a rather large sum of money for a failed bar/restaurant but I don't think it was $75 million. It's hard to imagine how a single establishment could create that much debt.  


    I thought the movie was excellent. It's the story of a man's battle with corporate evil as well as his own personal struggles with right and wrong, his fears, and the direction his own life will take. The closing scene (while the credits were rolling) was really moving and though simple, I felt it revealed a lot about the character.