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Michael Clayton Movie Poster

Michael Clayton: Movie Review
Four out of Five Stars
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Rated: R
Directed by:
Tony Gilroy
Tom Wilkinson, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe
Released by: Warner Bros. Pictures

In Short: What could have been a run-of-the-mill legal thriller is an award-worthy drama thanks to palpable performances and first-rate direction.
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Legal Theater
Clooney and Company Raise the Bar
by Andrew Bender

egal thrillers are to American filmmaking what a steak and baked potato dinner is to American cooking; lots of people can make a perfectly edible version, but an exceptional one sets standards. "Michael Clayton" is just such a film: the cinematic equivalent of well-marbled Kobe beef grilled just so.

The elements are conventional enough. A high-powered New York law firm is defending U/North, an agribusiness giant accused of making toxic fertilizers that infiltrated water supplies in the heartland. Defending the case has left the lead attorney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), bonkers (he strips naked in a deposition room in Milwaukee). So the firm sends Michael Clayton (George Clooney) as its fixer to wrangle Arthur back to sanity and shark status.

Tilda Swinton and Robert Prescott in Michael Clayton
George Clooney and Sydney Pollack in Michael Clayton

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.

PNJ012808 (Updated 10/12/12 KK)

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