“Michael Clayton” is a slow burn, with an ending that delivers quite a punch. It’s the type of film that many love but doesn’t fit neatly into the modern economics of Hollywood. Studios rarely make dramas like this for broad theatrical release anymore.
George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a middle-aged lawyer who works for a large law firm as its fixer. He cleans up messes for clients who get into trouble – stuff like accidents, domestic issues, etc. He’s also having his own problems as he tries to dig out of debt from a restaurant venture gone bad due to his alcoholic brother.
Clayton gets pulled into a crisis when the firm’s top litigator Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), threatens to blow up the firm’s largest case by exposing how the client chemical company (fictional U-North) knew its product was killing people. Arthur is a brilliant but troubled lawyer with mental health issues, He strips naked during a deposition while declaring his love for the lead plaintiff, a young, pretty woman from a farm in the Midwest.
The cast in this legal thriller is excellent. Clooney delivers one of his best performances as Michael, playing it straight and leaving aside the playful attitude we see in so many of his popular performances. He’s right out of central casting as the middle aged, big firm lawyer who is doing his best to remain calm as he deals with Arthur and his own issues.
Wilkinson, on the other hand, is brilliant as the manic Arthur who feels liberated by his decision to finally come clean about his client’s misconduct after grinding on the class-action lawsuit for years. He gives us some of the most memorable scenes of the film.