Michael Clayton

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Michael Clayton
A blurred pictured of a man with the words "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" superimposed
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Gilroy
Written byTony Gilroy
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byJohn Gilroy
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures (North America)
Summit Entertainment (International)
Release dates
  • August 31, 2007 (2007-08-31) (Venice)
  • October 5, 2007 (2007-10-05) (United States)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$21.5 million[2]
Box office$93 million[3]

Michael Clayton is a 2007 American legal thriller film written and directed by Tony Gilroy in his feature directorial debut and starring George Clooney as lawyer Michael Clayton, who discovers a coverup by one of his firm's clients. Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and Sydney Pollack appear in supporting roles.[4]

Released on October 5, 2007, the film grossed $93 million worldwide. It was praised for its direction, performances, and screenplay; Swinton's performance was particularly lauded. Michael Clayton was nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor for Clooney, Best Supporting Actor for Wilkinson, and Best Supporting Actress for Swinton, which she won.


Michael Clayton is a "fixer" for a prestigious New York City law firm, using his connections and knowledge of legal loopholes for clients' benefit. One night, Michael leaves a poker game to attend to a client who struck a pedestrian with his vehicle in Westchester County. Driving home, Michael sees three horses atop a hill with barren trees. He stops, gets out of his car and approaches them. Behind him, a bomb detonates in his car.

Four days earlier, Michael became involved in the firm's response to a manic episode by Arthur Edens, the firm's lead litigator defending U-North, an agricultural products conglomerate, in a six-year multi-billion-dollar class action lawsuit. Arthur's episode came in the middle of a deposition in the lawsuit, threatening the firm's reputation. Michael bails Arthur out of jail in Milwaukee after learning Arthur is no longer taking his medication. Arthur escapes from his hotel room during the night and returns to New York.

Michael approaches Marty Bach, the firm's managing partner, requesting a loan to cover a failed investment in a restaurant Michael made with his ne'er-do-well brother Timmy. Marty suggests Michael will be rewarded if he fixes the situation with Arthur and warns the firm will be finished if he fails.

Karen Crowder, U-North's general counsel, discovers that Arthur has a confidential U-North memo proving the company knew its weed killer was carcinogenic and caused the hundreds of deaths that sparked the lawsuit. She brings this to the attention of the CEO, Don Jeffries, whose signature is on the memo. Don puts her in contact with two hit men, who follow Arthur and bug his apartment and phone.

Michael finds Arthur on a Manhattan street and confronts him about calls he made to Anna Kaiserson, the plaintiff being deposed during his episode. Arthur realizes his calls are being monitored. Over the phone, Arthur is enthralled by Michael's son Henry describing his favorite fantasy book, Realm & Conquest, in which themes of fate, alienation and treachery are prominent. Arthur calls his own voicemail at the firm and says he will go public with the memo. Karen authorizes the hit men to take "drastic measures". They break into Arthur's apartment, kill him, and make it look like suicide.

After learning of Arthur's death, Michael becomes suspicious when he discovers that U-North was planning a settlement just a few days before, and that Arthur had booked a flight to New York for Anna. He finds Anna and learns that she told no one of her conversations with Arthur, yet the firm somehow did know. With help from his brother Gene, a police officer, Michael breaks into Arthur's apartment, which is sealed as a crime scene. Michael finds Arthur's dogeared copy of Realm & Conquest, pausing to consider an illustration of a horse on a hill with barren trees, and several pages highlighted and annotated by Arthur. A receipt from a photocopy shop is stuck in the book. Two police officers arrive on a tip from the hit men, who have been trailing Michael. Michael is arrested, but Gene bails him out.

Using the receipt, Michael discovers that Arthur ordered 3,000 copies of the confidential U-North memo printed and bound. The hit men discover Michael's knowledge of this. Marty offers Michael the money he requested as a bonus, but insists Michael also sign a three-year employment contract and a non-disclosure agreement covering his vast knowledge of the firm and its personnel. On the night of the poker game, the hit men rig Michael's car with a bomb and follow him through Westchester. Having gotten out of the car to view the horses on the hill, just as in the book his son wanted him to read, Michael witnesses the car explode, throws his valuables into the burning car and flees with Timmy's help.

At a U-North board meeting, Karen proposes that the board approve a new settlement in the lawsuit. Michael confronts her in the foyer and goads her into offering him $10 million for his silence. Karen agrees; Michael reveals that he is wearing a wire, with Gene and other NYPD detectives listening. As the police close on Don and Karen, Michael gets into a cab and rides away.




Denzel Washington was offered the lead role. He liked the script, but turned it down due to concern about a first-time director. He regretted the decision.[5]



Principal photography took place from January 30 to April 7, 2006. The film premiered on August 31, 2007, at the Venice Film Festival. It was shown at the American Films Festival of Deauville on September 2, 2007, and at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7. It opened in the United Kingdom on September 28, and at the Dubai Film Festival in December. It opened in limited release in the United States on October 5, 2007, and in wide release in the US on October 12. It grossed $10.3 million in the opening week. It was rereleased on January 25, 2008. It has grossed $49 million in North America and $92.9 million worldwide.[3]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 19, 2008, and on HD DVD on March 11, 2008.

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 205 reviews, with an average rating of 7.60/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "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."[6] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 82 out of 100, based on 36 critics indicating "universal acclaim".[7] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a B on an A+ to F scale.[8]

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 full four stars[9] and Richard Roeper named it the best film of the year.[10] 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".[11] Time wrote, "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".[11] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote that "Gilroy's film is distinguished beyond its components by its purpose, its compassion, its interest—increasingly manifest—in the soul".[12]

Michael Clayton appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.[13] It was also on Time magazine's 2012 list of 10 memorable ending scenes.[14]


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Sydney Pollack, Steven Samuels,
Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent
Best Director Tony Gilroy Nominated
Best Actor George Clooney Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Tom Wilkinson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Won
Best Original Screenplay Tony Gilroy Nominated
Best Original Score James Newton Howard Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Original Screenplay Tony Gilroy Nominated
Best Actor George Clooney Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Tom Wilkinson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Won
Best Editing John Gilroy Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[15] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama George Clooney Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Tom Wilkinson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award Best Supporting Actress Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award Best Supporting Actress Won
National Board of Review Best Actor George Clooney Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Actor Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Actor Won
Satellite Award Best Original Screenplay Tony Gilroy Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Drama Tom Wilkinson Won[a]
Best Supporting Actress – Drama Tilda Swinton Nominated
London Film Critics Association Best British Actor of the year Tom Wilkinson Won
Edgar Award Best Motion Picture Screenplay[16] Tony Gilroy Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Screenplay Tony Gilroy Nominated
Best Actor George Clooney Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Tom Wilkinson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Tony Gilroy Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Actor George Clooney Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Tom Wilkinson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Nominated
Most Promising Filmmaker Tony Gilroy Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle Actor of the Year George Clooney Nominated
British Actor of the Year Tom Wilkinson Nominated
British Supporting Actress of the Year Tilda Swinton Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Male Actor in a Leading Role George Clooney Nominated
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role Tom Wilkinson Nominated
Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role Tilda Swinton Nominated
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Tony Gilroy Nominated


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Michael Clayton was composed by James Newton Howard and released on September 25, 2007, on the Varèse Sarabande label.[17] It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Michael Clayton at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Michael Clayton (2007) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  3. ^ a b Michael Clayton at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  4. ^ "Michael Clayton". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 24, 2016.
  5. ^ https://www.gq.com/story/denzel-washington-interview-gq-october-2012
  6. ^ "Michael Clayton". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  7. ^ "Michael Clayton". Metacritic. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  8. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 4, 2007). "Michael Clayton Movie Review & Film Summary (2007)". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  10. ^ "Roeper and Scott Top Ten Lists - Inner Mind".
  11. ^ a b Schickel, Richard (December 9, 2007). "Top 10 Movies (Richard Schickel)". Time. Archived from the original on July 14, 2010. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
  12. ^ "Kinds of Success". The New Republic. November 4, 2007. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  13. ^ "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on February 23, 2008. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  14. ^ https://entertainment.time.com/2012/11/27/after-the-end-10-memorable-end-credit-scenes/
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ "The Edgar Allan Poe Awards". Book Reporter. Archived from the original on January 2, 2010. Retrieved November 30, 2010.
  17. ^ "Allmusic: Michael Clayton (Original Score)". Macrovision Corporation. 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008.

External links[edit]