Michael Clayton (film)

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Michael Clayton
A blurred pictured of a man with the words "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" superimposed
Promotional film poster
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Produced by
Written by Tony Gilroy
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Edited by John Gilroy
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 31, 2007 (2007-08-31) (Venice)
  • October 5, 2007 (2007-10-05) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $92.9 million[1]

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. Loosely based on the multinational corporation Monsanto, 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 and Best Original Screenplay for Gilroy, Best Actor for Clooney, and Best Supporting Actor for Wilkinson, with Swinton winning the award for Best Supporting Actress.


Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a "fixer" for a prestigious New York City law firm, using his connections and knowledge of legal loopholes for 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. As he climbs the hill to admire them, the car explodes behind him.

The film then moves back to four days earlier. Michael is $75,000 in debt from a restaurant investment he entered with his brother Timmy, which collapsed when Timmy used the restaurant's funds to fuel his drug habits. Michael, having gone to a loan shark to raise the money, refuses to give up his brother and is held responsible for the debt, given one week to come up with the money. Meanwhile, one of the firm's leading attorneys, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has a psychotic breakdown 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, who had failed to take his anti-psychotic medication, 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 it knew to be carcinogenic. Karen brings this to the attention of U-North's CEO (Ken Howard), who puts her in contact with two men secretly on retainer (Robert Prescott and Terry Serpico). She contracts them to follow Arthur and bug his apartment and phone. When they report that Arthur is building a case to expose his own client, Karen has them murder Arthur in such a way as to make it look like a drug-induced heart attack.

Michael, saddened by news of Arthur's death, 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). She tells him that no one knew of her conversations with Arthur, not even her attorney, yet Michael's firm knew of Arthur's conversations with the U-North plaintiffs. With the help of his other brother Gene (Sean Cullen), a police detective, Michael gets access to Arthur's sealed apartment and, finding a bottle of champagne and two glasses in the refrigerator, suspects Arthur arranged to meet Anna. There is also a copy of Realm and Conquest, a fantasy novel which Michael's son Henry recommended to Arthur. He finds a receipt from a copy store being used as a bookmark.

Michael is caught in the apartment and arrested for trespassing, but Gene bails him out. Using the receipt, Michael discovers that Arthur had ordered three thousand copies of the confidential U-North document. Michael takes one with him, which the two hit men (who are now following him) inform Karen of. Michael is about to show his boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack, in his penultimate film appearance) 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. An additional confidentiality agreement causes Michael to realize Marty already knows about U-North's shady dealings.

One of the hit men rigs Michael's car with a bomb, but is forced to leave it unfinished when Michael returns. While at a card game, Michael receives a phone call summoning him to meet the hit-and-run client in Westchester County, as seen at the start of the movie. He is being followed by the two men, who have trouble trailing him, but eventually get close enough to detonate the remote bomb. However, Michael had left the car to admire the horses, since it resembled an illustration from Realm and Conquest. Michael throws his personal effects into the fire and escapes into the woods.

At a U-North board meeting, Karen proposes approval of a new settlement agreement. She is called out of the conference room to meet Michael, who informs her he has access to the U-North memo and knows about her role in Arthur's murder, and the subsequent attempt on his life. He goads Karen into offering him $10 million for his silence. Karen reluctantly agrees, prompting Michael to reveal a 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.[1]

Home media[edit]

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.


Critical response[edit]

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."[2] The film also has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 critics indicating "universal acclaim".[3]

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.[citation needed][4] 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".[5] 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".[5]

Top ten lists[edit]

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.[6]





Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Michael Clayton was released on September 25, 2007 on the Varèse Sarabande label.[11] The soundtrack was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score.


  1. ^ a b Michael Clayton at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  2. ^ "Michael Clayton". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 21, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Michael Clayton". Metacritic. Retrieved October 21, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Richard Roeper's Best of 2007". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 21, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Schickel, Richard (December 9, 2007). "Top 10 Movies (Richard Schickel)". Time. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on February 23, 2008. Retrieved February 25, 2008. 
  7. ^ Roeper's review on YouTube
  8. ^ Dargis's review
  9. ^ "The Edgar Allan Poe Awards". Book Reporter. Retrieved November 30, 2010. 
  10. ^ "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. 
  11. ^ "Allmusic: Michael Clayton (Original Score)". Macrovision Corporation. 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 

External links[edit]