"Facing One’s Sins"
What You Need To Know:
If it weren’t for an abundance of foul language as well as a vivid description of oral sex, MICHAEL CLAYTON would be a compelling drama about facing your own sins. The movie has a clear act of self-sacrifice and redemption, but it is still done too late and too quickly. With a little more emphasis and a lot less foul language, this could have been a really great movie. Overall, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
(B, C, FR, E, Acap, P, LLL, VV, SS, N, A, DD, MM) Light moral worldview with light redemptive character arc plus light false religion for a mention of the false Hindu god Shiva, with light environmentalist content, light anti-capitalist elements, light pro-American content about a man facing his sins and a moral dilemma; 55 obscenities and 21 profanities, plus vivid discussion of oral sex; strong violence such as car blows up, discussion of a hit and run, victims have toxic chemicals, and the brutal high-tech chemical murder of a lawyer; no shown sex but a vivid description of oral sex; man strips but no private parts shown, woman in slip and bra; alcohol use; smoking and drugs discussed; and, lying, cheating and stealing.
If it weren’t for an abundance of foul language as well as a vivid description of oral sex, MICHAEL CLAYTON would be a compelling drama about facing your own sins.
Michael, played by George Clooney, is one of the best fixers at one of the top New York law firms. Once upon a time, he was a terrific trial lawyer until Marty, played by Sydney Pollack, recruited him to be the firm’s fixer. Now, when there’s a crisis, such as an extremely wealthy client involved in a hit and run homicide, it’s up to Michael to solve it by hook or by crook. When he leaves this particular problem of the hit and run, Michael inexplicably pulls his car off the road in the countryside and walks toward a group of horses. Suddenly, his car is blown to smithereens.
Cut to four days earlier. Michael is sent to the Midwest to bring home one of the firm’s top trial lawyers, Arthur, played by Tom Wilkinson, who has had a serious nervous breakdown. In the middle of the deposition, Arthur starts ranting and raving and strips naked, running after one of the clients. Arthur forgot to take his medicine, but he’s also been pushed over the brink because he represents an agro-chemical company, U/North, and has found that the company knew their chemical was highly carcinogenic. Overwhelmed by his complicity, he has started making a case against his own client. The in-house lawyer for U/North, Karen, played by Tilda Swinton, will stop at nothing to protect her company. In fact, she gives the word for Arthur to be silenced forever by a chemical injection.
Michael begins to perceive that Arthur may be right, and that he is really just the janitor and bagman for the dirty laundry of the law firm. He has abandoned his one brother, who was his partner in a restaurant, and that drove the brother to drink. He has abandoned his wife and has trouble focusing on his son. Coming from a family of cops, he puts his other detective brother’s retirement in jeopardy. As it becomes clear that he cannot fix this problem of U/North and Arthur, Michael has to confront his own sins. He can either run and hide or take a stand for justice for the first time in his life.
Screenwriter, director Tony Gilroy’s movies, including THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, are preoccupied with guilt. MICHAEL CLAYTON has almost the clearest act of self-sacrifice and redemption of any of his movies, but it is still done so late and so quickly that it’s almost as if Tony is afraid of really pursuing the conclusion of his premise. With a little more emphasis and a lot less foul language, this could have been a really great movie. Of course, it’s been done before in different ways, such as in THE VERDICT and A CIVIL ACTION.
There are many things to commend in this movie. The direction is particularly noteworthy because the director creates a very real world and yet almost shows you behind the scenes into the world of the actor. That is, Tilda Swinton’s big speech to the U/North board of directors is mixed with her practicing her speech, almost as if she were doing a scene study in front of a mirror. So, the director Gilroy has effectively exposed and almost transcended his own genre. The technical effects – lighting, camerawork, editing – are superb. This movie has a terrific look and a great score.
That said, wise people who do not like the “f” word, descriptions of oral sex, scenes of foul language, and intense confrontations will not like MICHAEL CLAYTON. It is understood they are there to show what a bad guy Michael is and what a bad world he inhabits, but once upon a time, this was done just as well without crossing the boundaries of civility, sense and sensibility by great actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood.