Web Exclusive: “Michael Clayton”

    Though the plot of
    “Michael Clayton” — the uninspiring title of Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut —
    may circumnavigate the usual big, bad industrial polluters and self-sacrificing
    lawyers destined to bring them to their fiscal knees, it’s doubtful the film
    will rouse any new activists for harsher regulations on clean water protection.

    Still, it doesn’t
    skimp on the thrills. With razor-sharp dialogue from characters interacting in
    the shadows of backdoor legality, Gilroy’s adventure takes a headfirst plunge
    down the rabbit hole of corporate law and through the turbulent waters of
    class-action lawsuits — everything we’d expect from the scribe of “The Devil’s
    Advocate,” “Armageddon” and the “Bourne Identity” series, without the burden of
    endless jury pandering and paperwork rifling that weigh down the genre. Every
    closet is brimming with skeletons, and all the characters — like those in
    “Advocate” — are headed straight to a private resort in hell.

    There are, of
    course, betrayals and car bombs, stolen files and secret deals — all the
    staples of modern courtroom epics (minus the courtroom, and the epic). But that
    doesn’t make “Michael Clayton” your typical law-firm/court-subterfuge fodder.
    The plot is never far-reaching, free of moral imperative or social obligation,
    nor is it riddled with the now stock-issue speeches of self-righteousness by
    men of impenetrable morals. Here, the token do-gooder, building his case
    against the polluters, isn’t struggling against the corporate machine in a
    heroic effort on behalf of the victims, but instead is the lead defense
    attorney for the evil company. And he’s just been stripped to his skivvies
    during a major deposition.

    Enter Michael
    Clayton (George Clooney) ­­— the fixer, the man without scruples, the on-call
    cleaner when there’s corporate dirty work to be done. Clayton even calls
    himself the janitor — it’s his job to mop up the messes, no matter how nasty or
    insane, such as his naked colleague in the courtroom.

    The film begins with
    an apparently deranged Arthur Edens (the aforementioned streaker, played by Tom
    Wilkinson) describing his descent into madness at the steps of his office
    high-rise, a beautiful allegory of amniotic mucus and the taint of corporate lies.
    He begs for empathy and for faith that he’s not that insane, not all mad.

    Cut to Clayton at a
    card table, answering a call from a lawyer friend in need: There’s a situation
    with a long-time client involved in a hit-and-run — and Clayton is the only man
    who can sweep the blood under the rug. So Mr. Fix-it arrives, defuses the
    situation with clockwork efficiency, and proceeds to a quick drive in the
    country. He stops to watch some grazing horses, calmly walking up a hill to pet
    them as cold air escapes from his mouth like a fog. All is serene and a little
    surreal. Then his car explodes. Rewind four days when the pieces of the puzzle
    begin to unravel — into a tangled mess. Sinfully unconventional, “Michael
    Clayton” is proof that inspired writing is everything a blockbuster needs to

    Not that this one’s
    shy of acting talent: Sidney Pollack is superb as Marty Bach, the CEO of a
    corporate monster, and Tom Wilkinson steals every scene he graces, transforming
    Edens into a brilliantly played modern-day Hamlet, driven mad by too many years
    spent batting for the wrong team. On the other hand, Clooney’s still Clooney —
    a one-trick pony riding his smarmy looks and deadpan charisma to the end.

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