Michael Clayton *** (out of ****)

Director: Tony Gilroy
Writer: Tony Gilroy
Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
Rating: R (language)
Running Time: 120 min
Release Date: 10/5/07 (limited), 10/12/07 (wide)

Michael Clayton is a slick dramatic production set the world of the high powered law firm of Kenner, Bach, and Ladeen and its corporate clients. George Clooney is perfect for the role of a lawyer. Unlike his previous role in the romantic comedy Irreconcilable Differences, his character is far from being the top lawyer in the firm. He is the firm’s fixer, who deals with its more embarrassing problems. For example, when a top client of the firm gets involved a hit and run, he is sent in to quickly determine a course of action.

This problem is routine compared with the problem he faces when one of the firms top litigators goes into an insane rant and strips naked during a deposition. Clayton is sent to deal with this situation. The litigator Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkerson) has been working for six years on the U-North, case a three billion dollar class action lawsuit over the health effects of one of their herbicides. Clayton soon finds out that two factors are driving Edens’ behavior. First he has not been taking his pills for a bipolar condition and second he is having a major guilty conscience about defending a client he knows is in the wrong. The herbicide was known by company scientists to be a carcinogen that would get into the ground water. U-North had marketed it anyway, resulting in hundreds of deaths on small family farms. Clayton has handled a similar situation involving Edens going off his meds in the past and considers him a friend. So he also has a personal interest in Edens’ welfare.

Clayton is not entirely happy with his role as the fixer and had trying to start a bar as a side business. But, that deal didn’t would out and he now owes $75,000, which one would think shouldn’t be that hard for a lawyer such as himself to raise. But, he is divorced, has a history of high stakes gambling, and his residence is already mortgaged to the max. Clayton seems trapped in continuing his clean up activities regardless of his qualms. The suggestion is that this debt is owed to someone a little more sinister than the bank. Given the non-linear plot line of script we aren’t immediately sure which party bombed Clayton’s Mercedes in one of the opening scenes.

Edens runs away from Clayton before he can get back to “normal” on this medication. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), the chief legal counsel for U-North, calls in a team of specialists to deal with the situation. What happens then is a little far fetched under the circumstances based on what I know of corporate behavior. But, it does lead to a typical but improbable Hollywood crowd pleasing conclusion. I’ll have to give it only give only three stars for that reason In all other aspects this is a truly captivating and enjoyable movie to watch.

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