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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Suspenseful Twists in 'Michael Clayton'
by Diana Saenger

I know many of us roll our eyes today when another political scandal or celebrity meltdown hits the airwaves. Though we profess to be fed up with these disgraces, TV and internet ratings of their coverage suggest otherwise. Ultimately, we discover that high-profilers, like us, are just everyday people capable of making the wrong choices. This is the scenario played out in the psychological thriller Michael Clayton.

George Clooney plays the title role, a "fixer" in a prestigious Manhattan law firm. Although it seems such a job  would be less important than representing a client in court, the kind of work Michael does is rare and vital to high-profile cases. Relying on the old saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know," Michael has a mental rolodex of names to call whenever he needs favors to help with a particular case.  

The movie opens with Michael reluctantly sent on a late night ride to deal with a client who ran into a jogger. Michael and the client are like water and oil. The client demands that Michael immediately pull a fix out of his hat. Things turn into a heated debate with Michael basically offering a few ideas and leaving. During his now early morning ride back, the weary Michael stops and notices three horses alone in the middle of nowhere. As he walks down the hill to check them out, his Mercedes blows up. This loud explosion serves as an awaking from the peaceful silence. It announces that there's more here than the eye can see, and the story resolves back several days to start the journey.

While this scenario alone would be enough intrigue to draw us in, screenwriter Tony Gilroy (of the Bourne series), who also directs Michael Clayton, sets the bar even higher.

"He wrote a really smart semi-thriller and knew what he wanted out of the screenplay," said Clooney. "I was in after reading 30 pages."

I did find the transition back in time a tad confusing, but Clooney is such a fascinating and believable actor, I couldn't help staying tuned in, and I soon discovered the story is about a huge legal case. Michael's firm is representing U/North in a class-action lawsuit involving pesticides that caused physical harm to many of the plaintiffs. Conflict arises when Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), one of the firm’s top litigators, puts the case in jeopardy.

Arthur, also a close friend to Michael, shows signs of a physical and mental breakdown. He's the one with the scientific brilliance to be the firm's ace in the hole for the case against U/North, but when he begins to make passes to a young girl who’s a plaintiff in the case, everything explodes. After Michael’s boss Marty Bach (Sydney Pollace) demands that he fix it, Michael becomes a sparing partner with U/North's lead counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton).

Gilroy's tight screenplay, surprising twists and focused direction keep the key characters in this story facing one moral and ethical dilemma after another, and who better to play them to the hilt than Clooney, Wilkinson, Swinton and Pollack. "It's really about how far you are willing to move that line of ethics to find out how you live your life,” added Clooney.

Marty's temper flares; Michael aches for his friend and begins to question his own role in the case; Arthur unravels to extremes; and Karen prepares for her case like a drum majorette leading a parade. Each hurdle these characters face is higher than the last.

Although we've seen many films about high-profile law firms versus the average Joe, Michael Clayton becomes more compelling every minute of its viewing time.

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for language including some sexual dialogue.)

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