Michael Clayton (film)
Promotional film poster
|Directed by||Tony Gilroy|
|Written by||Tony Gilroy|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||John Gilroy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Michael Clayton is a 2007 American legal thriller film written and directed by Tony Gilroy, starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack. The film chronicles the attempts by attorney Michael Clayton to cope with a colleague's apparent mental breakdown, and the corruption and intrigue surrounding a major client of his law firm being sued in a class action case over the effects of toxic agrochemicals.
The film received positive reviews and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Gilroy and Best Actor for Clooney, with Swinton winning the award for Best Supporting Actress.
Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a "fixer" in a prestigious New York City law firm, using his connections and his knowledge of legal loopholes for his clients' benefit. After leaving an underground poker game and dealing with a wealthy client's (Denis O'Hare) hit and run, Michael drives despondently and stops at a remote field, where some horses are standing on a hill. When he leaves his car to climb up the hill to admire the horses, the car explodes behind him.
We flash back to four days earlier. We find out that Michael is a divorced father of one, and is $75,000 in debt from a previous restaurant investment he entered with his brother Timmy that faltered when the brother used the restaurant's funds to fuel his drug habits. Michael, having gone to a loan shark to raise the money for the investment, refuses to give his brother's exact location and is held responsible for the debt. He is eventually given one week to come up with the money. Meanwhile, one of the firm's leading attorneys, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has a bizarre outburst in the middle of a deposition in Milwaukee involving a class action lawsuit against U-North, an agricultural products conglomerate. Michael arrives in Milwaukee and bails Arthur out of jail, but he escapes from their hotel room in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), U-North's general counsel, discovers that Arthur had come into possession of a confidential U-North document detailing the company's decision to manufacture a weed killer that it knew to be carcinogenic. Karen brings this to the attention of U-North's CEO (Ken Howard). He puts Karen in contact with two men who are secretly on retainer by U-North (Robert Prescott, Terry Serpico). She contracts them to follow Arthur and plant bugs in his apartment and phone. When they report that Arthur is building a case to expose his own client, Karen asks that Arthur be eliminated. The same two men proceed to do as she directs. They secretly murder Arthur in a very sophisticated way designed to resemble a heart attack, possibly brought on by a drug overdose.
Michael is saddened by the actual news of Arthur's death, but becomes suspicious upon learning that U-North was planning a settlement just a few days before and that Arthur had booked a flight to New York for one of the plaintiffs, Anna (Merritt Wever). He learns from Anna that she told no one of her conversations with Arthur, not even her attorney, arousing in Michael further suspicion about how his firm came to know of Arthur's conversations with the U-North plaintiffs. With the help of his other brother Gene (Sean Cullen) in the police department Michael gets access to Arthur's sealed apartment. There he discovers that Arthur seemed to be expecting Anna, as there is a bottle of champagne with two glasses in the refrigerator. There is a copy of a fantasy novel called Realm and Conquest that Michael's eleven year old son Henry has been absorbed in, and has recommended it to Arthur to read. Arthur has clearly read the book, having made annotations and highlighted numerous passages in the book. One of the illustrations in the book is of a horse standing on a hillside. Also in the book Michael finds a receipt from a copy store. At this point Michael is arrested for trespassing on sealed premises, and his brother Gene has to arrange for his release from custody. Next Michael discovers that Arthur had ordered three thousand copies of the confidential U-North document. Michael takes a copy with him, but the two hit men are tailing him and inform Karen of the situation. Michael is about to show his boss, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), what he has discovered, only to be offered a renewal of his employment contract as well as an $80,000 bonus he had requested to cover his debt, although it comes with a confidentiality agreement to prevent him from ever shaking down the firm, with Marty already knowing the shady nature of U-North, though not of the murder.
One of the hit men rigs his car with a bomb, but the installation was not completed, sparing Michael of an immediate demise. Michael receives a phone call summoning him to the meeting with the client in Westchester County who had committed a hit-and-run, as seen at the start of the movie. He is being followed by the two men, who have trouble trailing him, but eventually get near Michael's trail and detonate the remote bomb while he is out of the car standing in the field with the horses, which he had stopped to look at since it resembled the scene from Realm and Conquest. An unharmed but startled Michael runs back to his now-burning car and throws his personal effects into the fire to fake his death and escapes into the woods.
Later, at a U-North board meeting, Karen proposes approval of a new settlement agreement. Michael is waiting for her when she exits the conference room, and informs her that he has access to copies of the U-North memo and that he knows about her role in Arthur's murder, and her subsequent unsuccessful attempt to kill him. He goads Karen into offering him $10 million for his silence. Karen reluctantly agrees, prompting Michael to reveal the phone in his pocket that has conveyed their conversation to the police. As he walks away, Karen falls to her knees in shock while detectives rush forward to arrest her and question the directors. Michael hands the U-North memo to Gene, then leaves the building, hails a cab, passes the driver 50 dollars and tells him to "just drive."
- George Clooney as Michael Raymond Clayton. As the "fixer" for Kenner, Bach, and Ledeen, it is his job to clean up messes for the firm. He refers to himself as a "janitor", and he does not appear to enjoy his job.
- Tom Wilkinson as Arthur Edens, senior litigation partner in the firm and a good friend of Michael Clayton and Marty Bach. He has bipolar disorder and is the lead attorney for U-North in a class-action case.
- Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder, general counsel at U-North, a ruthless lawyer who is on the verge of a mental breakdown. Swinton won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
- Sydney Pollack as Marty Bach, Head of Kenner, Bach, and Ledeen and a friend of Michael's.
The film premiered August 31, 2007, at the Venice Film Festival and was shown at the American Films Festival of Deauville on September 2, 2007, and at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2007. It opened in the United Kingdom on September 28, 2007, and at the Dubai Film Festival in December 2007. The film opened in limited release in the United States on October 5, 2007, and opened in wide release in the U.S. on October 12, 2007. The film grossed USD $10.3 million on the opening week. It was re-released on January 25, 2008. The film has grossed $49 million at the North American domestic box office, and a total of $92.9 million worldwide.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on February 19, 2008. The DVD contains deleted scenes and a commentary by writer/director Tony Gilroy. On March 11, 2008 the movie was also released on HD DVD.
Michael Clayton received critical acclaim and has a "certified fresh" score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 197 reviews with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. The critical consensus states: "Michael Clayton is one of the most sharply scripted films of 2007, with an engrossing premise and faultless acting. Director Tony Gilroy succeeds not only in capturing the audience's attention, but holding it until the credits roll." The film also has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 critics indicating "universal acclaim."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it an 'A' saying that it was "better than good, it just about restores your faith." Roger Ebert gave it a 4-star review and Richard Roeper named it the best film of the year. It was also Richard Schickel's top film of 2007, and he called it "a morally alert, persuasively realistic and increasingly suspenseful melodrama, impeccably acted and handsomely staged by Tony Gilroy". Time magazine said that "Michael Clayton is not an exercise in high-tension energy; you'll never confuse its eponymous protagonist with Jason Bourne. But it does have enough of a melodramatic pulse to keep you engaged in its story and, better than that, it is full of plausible characters who are capable of surprising—and surpassing—your expectations".
Top ten lists
The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.
- 1st – Claudia Puig, USA Today
- 1st – Richard Roeper, At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper
- 1st – Richard Schickel, TIME magazine
- 2nd – Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
- 3rd – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
- 5th – Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
- 6th – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
- 6th – Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter
- 7th – Jack Mathews, New York Daily News
- 7th – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
- 7th – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times (tied with Lady Chatterley)
- 7th – Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
- 8th – A.O. Scott, The New York Times (tied with The Lives of Others)
- 8th – Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times
- 8th – Shawn Levy, The Oregonian
- 8th – Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer
- 9th – Dennis Harvey, Variety (tied with Romantico)
- 9th – Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
- 80th Academy Awards (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
- Best Supporting Actress (Tilda Swinton)
- London Film Critics Association
- Best British Actor of the year (Tom Wilkinson)
- 80th Academy Awards
- 61st British Academy Film Awards
- 65th Golden Globe Awards
- Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
- Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
- London Film Critics Circle Awards
- Satellite Awards
- Screen Actors Guild Awards
- Michael Clayton at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
- "Michael Clayton". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
- "Michael Clayton". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
- "Richard Roeper's Best of 2007". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
- Schickel, Richard (December 9, 2007). "Top 10 Movies (Richard Schickel)". Time (New York City). Retrieved July 1, 2010.
- "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on February 23, 2008. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
- Roeper's review on YouTube
- Dargis's review
- "The Edgar Allan Poe Awards". Book Reporter. Retrieved November 30, 2010.
- "Hollywood Foreign Press Association 2008 Golden Globe Awards for the Year Ended December 31, 2007". Golden Globes. December 13, 2007. Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved December 17, 2007.
- "Allmusic: Michael Clayton (Original Score)". Macrovision Corporation. 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008.
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