Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Merritt Weaver, Austin Williams
Director: Tony Gilroy (His First Film)
Summary: A law firm brings in its fixer to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty in a class action suit
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Clooney), Supporting Actor (Wilkinson), Supporting Actress (Swinton)*, Original Screenplay, Original Score
While there’s nothing glaringly wrong with it, Michael Clayton felt uncreative and predictable with the cast being the one real saving grace of the movie. In terms of everybody involved with this horrible company being guess a bit from my personal experience here: my legal ethics professor in law school was a woman who defended R.J. Reynolds in the tobacco cancer class action cases for 20 years and came off as one of the happier and most well-adjusted professors there. To the layman, this might sound crazy, but there’s nothing contradictory about wholeheartedly but still ethically defending an unethical client; in other words, unlike most every character in the movie, it is quite possible to be in this kind of situation yet still be a perfectly decent person who isn’t having a total breakdown due to their conscience. The story felt both overly dramatic and by the numbers, the latter of which really hurt it being an effective thriller that felt like it had any real tension.
Although other aspects may be lacking, I have to admit the acting is very good. Clooney is consistently reliable as a leading man and conveys the world-weariness of his character well; Wilkinson’s always a welcome presence and here he goes all out playing an unhinged lawyer off his meds who can’t deal with what his life has amounted to; and Swinton (somewhat surprisingly in my estimation) won an Oscar for her performance where she’s great at teetering on the edge, just about to fall off due to her actions but can still present a composed face to others. Unfortunately, good performances aren’t enough to make this anything particularly memorable, as it doesn’t dig beyond the obvious or offer any new insight with its themes and there’s not really anything that keeps you on your toes with the story.