Clooney shows why he’s a leading man here. Looking a bit haggard yet cool as chipped ice, he fixes other people’s messes while juggling his own: debt, ex, son, brother, gambling addiction. Tilda Swinton as U/North’s chief in-house counsel is his mirror image, endlessly rehearsing her lines and so tightly wound that she’s got an ever-present sheen of sweat. Swinton doesn’t so much steal scenes as appropriate them into the pocket of her tailored suits.
Clooney, Wilkinson and Swinton are surrounded by the usual legal thriller stock characters: gruff partner, simple-hearted victim, jerk-o co-worker, steely hit man. But writer and first-time director Tony Gilroy has chosen his ingredients so carefully (from Sydney Pollack to a gray, damp Manhattan) that it seems almost effortless as he whips them into a savory and satisfying concoction.