NPR logo 'Michael Clayton'

'Michael Clayton'

George Clooney and Sydney Pollack. i

Burned-out attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney, left) handles the dirty work for law-firm boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack). Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures
George Clooney and Sydney Pollack.

Burned-out attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney, left) handles the dirty work for law-firm boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack).

Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Director: Tony Gilroy
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

In this smoldering corporate thriller, Tony Gilroy — the screenwriter behind the three Bourne films — works a less frenetic, lawyerly variation on that same basic plot line: You know, the one involving a tough character who has an identity crisis about working for the bad guys.

George Clooney plays a fixer for a high-powered law firm who is asked to look after one of the firm's star litigators (a terrific Tom Wilkinson). The older man has stopped taking his medication and gone off the rails, thereby threatening a huge corporate merger. Clayton slowly realizes that the litigator's madness may stem from the case he's investigating — a chemical company's multibillion-dollar environmental settlement — and as the minder's own allegiances shift, he finds himself in danger.

As a corporations-are-scum morality tale, the film is hardly unorthodox, but it's uncommonly smart in its writing, and sharply acted by its principals — including Tilda Swinton as a corporate counsel who's professionally chilly, but made to sweat plenty by Clayton's discoveries. Gilroy's direction is crisp, unhurried, and except for a couple of dead ends in the script — the title character's family story doesn't go anywhere — as taut and controlled as the performance of his leading man, who's likely to be remembered come awards time.

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