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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Michael Clayton (review)

First Thing We Do…

I wish I could say that I know George Clooney. I can’t. I don’t. But I did meet him once, briefly, at a press event for Good Night, and Good Luck. and listened to him speak for an hour or whatever it was about that film, and movies in general, and his life as a creative person in the strange situation he’s in of being both a huge “star” and someone with far greater artistic ambitions than merely getting mentioned in as many gossip columns as possible.

And what struck me most about him is that he isn’t anything at all like what you might expect him to be. There is, unexpectedly, something very melancholy, almost sad, about him. I may be stretching a bit now when I say that the impression I was left with was of a man happy with his work but not so happy with everything else. But that’s the impression I was left with.

I mention all this not to sound cool or drop names — I promise you that the press junket thing is nowhere near as glamorous or exciting as you might think it is, and there is something just a tad dispiriting about getting confirmation that someone you wanted to believe was jolly and charming and superhuman might just be as miserable and mortal as you are yourself. I mention it because the character Michael Clayton is more like what I suspect the real, nonsuperstar George Clooney-the-man is like than any other character we’ve seen him play before. That sounds just a little bit horrible because Michael Clayton is a little bit of a slimeball, though Michael Clayton the movie is all about his redemption and his journey back to decent humanity. Of course I don’t think Clooney is anything like a slimeball… though I do think there are probably things that smart, talented, ambitious people do in Hollywood — things they may be less than proud of in retrospect — in order to get themselves to a position where they finally have the power to do the projects they really want to do. Hello, Batman and Robin?

You sell out and you sell out and you sell out until you can’t do it anymore. And that’s when things gets interesting.

This is all introduction to me saying this: Michael Clayton is — hands-down, no-question, make-your-toes-curl-with-a-creative-crush — the absolute best, most surprising, most devastating performance Clooney (Ocean’s Thirteen, Syriana) has given us yet. And I would not be at all shocked to learn that that was because more than a little of it resonated with Clooney and the path he’s taken to get to the point where he can star — with thoroughly uncompromising integrity and unapologetic genius — in such an exhiliratingly elegant, sophisticated, grownup film.

To classify or to explain Michael Clayton — the directorial debut of Bourne series scribe Tony Gilroy — is to reduce it to less than the sum of its wonderfully jumbled, untidy parts, but here’s a shot: It’s Erin Brockovich for grownups, which acknowledges that reality is a lot messier and demands a lot more to fix it, if it even can be fixed on a grand scale, than mere sass. It’s the thematic sequel to The Insider, a thriller of the conscience in which what is at stake is a single man’s soul, and the collective soul of us all. It’s a horror story of human proportions of the all-too-ordinary awfulness of the real world of pettiness and greed and secret shame, and of the seemingly undefeatable power of hydra-headed corporations: get rid of one lawyer, and three more pop up in his place.

The plot, which is deliciously nonlinear, revolves around the $3 billion class action lawsuit Clayton’s big New York law firm is handling for agribusiness corp U/North — something to do with a pesticide that’s killing more than it should. Clayton is the “fixer,” the “janitor” the firm calls in when the shit hits the fan, and the shit really stinks this time: the firm’s lead litigator, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Batman Begins), seems to have gone off the deep end, seems to be sabotaging the very case he’s meant to be winning. Clayton’s job: either get Edens back on his meds — he’s manic depressive but fine when he’s medicated — or get him to keep his mouth shut and not say or do anything the plaintiffs can use against U/North. Which will make U/North’s in-house general counsel, the meticulous and studied Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton [The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Constantine], all cold, careless malevolence) very unhappy… and you don’t want to see her unhappy.

It’s all eerie and chilling and deeply, deeply horrifying in the most routine way, how casually truth and justice and humanity are cast aside by corporations — argi or legal or otherwise — when money is at issue, and how succinctly Michael Clayton suggests that modern pharmaceuticals can serve as a sledgehammer to enforced conformity. If Edens comes to his senses, as many of us would interpret his change of heart toward the crimes of U/North, just as he comes off his meds, is it ridiculous to suggest that there’s a connection? Just what, many aspects of Michael Clayton seem to ask, are we giving up of our own true selves to be a cog in the big machine of the modern world?

Clayton — looking sad and beaten down and how else should he look? — meanders through this morass as just another of the profound disasters of his life he’s juggling. Oh, the scene in which Edens wanders into and out of lucidity and finally sharpens up enough to let Clayton know that he, Edens, is still on the ball enough to be a formidable legal opponent is stunning — if you didn’t already acknowledge Wilkinson as an astonishing actor, this will do it. But it’s only one sucker punch Clayton stumbles under, from the collapse of the restaurant venture he’s undertaken, probably unwisely, with his drunken druggy brother to the strange obsession his young son (Clayton is a divorced dad, of course) has with the (invented) fantasy novel Realm and Conquest, the son’s moral arbiter in all things. (Think: What would Frodo do?) Clayton is buffeted by all of them until he breaks… and he’s such a careful, constricted man that the moment at which he breaks is open to interpretation.

And how thrilling is that, to anyone who craves entertainment in which the level of complication is directly correlated with the level of enjoyment?

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Michael Clayton (2007)
US/Can release: Oct 5 2007
UK/Ire release: Sep 28 2007

MPAA: rated R for language including some sexual dialogue
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language, very strong language and sex references)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • marcy

    Just came from seeing Michael Clayton. Yes, I agree–brilliant and totally engrossing from beginning to end. I’ve been a Clooney-girl since ER, and I’ve stuck with him though he’s made some dogs. Here, he’s brilliant, through and through. I’ve been impressed with his skills, personality, diversity, even his silly sense of humor (not to mention sex appeal). After 90 minutes of which he was on screen probably 75, I am even more impressed.

    I’ve never met George or seen him speak at a press junket, but I’ve read a lot of his interviews. That sadness doesn’t really surprise me. The hail-fellow-well-met jovial party-guy part of him, I believe, is as real and compelling as the moodiness and the temper, but I suspect that he’s done less of selling out (and plenty of poor decision-making) than you seem to think. I think that sadness has become so real to you because he’s done a fine job of acting–which means reaching inside and summoning the part of you that meshes and personifies the character. I think we’ve made that mistake with George before: Danny Ocean–not acting but playing himself? Could he also have been playing himself when he did O Brother? Syriana? And the oft-overlooked gem, Solaris.

    I’m delighted for George for this one. He deserves the unreserved acclaim he’s likely to get for this picture–even from Republicans!

  • Cthulhu

    I can only say one thing about this film.


    I knew George was good but this is something else. Even Mrs C enjoyed it.

  • MaryAnn

    I suspect that he’s done less of selling out (and plenty of poor decision-making) than you seem to think.

    Well, I don’t necessary mean that selling out is always a bad thing. Sometimes you have to make certain compromises to get where you want to be be. That’s not a bad thing: it’s acknowledging reality.

  • MBI

    Most overrated movie of the year.

    It plays for moral ambiguity while giving us a line between good and evil that’s a mile wide and blindingly obvious. It plays for realism but doesn’t know the difference between realistic and boring. Not a challenging movie by anyone’s estimation, unless it’s a newsflash to you that big corporations might be bad for you. This movie’s joyless pretension and unjustified gravitas made me angrier than any movie I’ve seen this year, even Transformers.

    When that guy at the beginning demanded to know what exactly Clooney’s job was, I wanted to know the same thing. Clooney is too smart to be as far behind as he was in this movie, and the opposite goes for Tilda Swinton, who apparently reached her lofty position despite being constantly about to puke everywhere. Clooney’s debt problems and Swinton’s anxiety attacks humanize them, but that just makes them less compelling, not more. This movie doesn’t even attempt to get inside Clooney’s head. This movie is nothing more than a stupid guy dressed in a expensive suit. If Clooney’s speech to his kid or the complete non sequitur “You’ve got all these cops thinking you’re a lawyer, and all these lawyers thinking you’re a cop!” hasn’t tipped off to the world what a sham this movie is, I don’t know what to do anymore.

  • JT

    Saw it this evening and thought it was stellar. I was amazed at how little exposition there was and yet the plot made complete sense to me. It came together so beautifully. I’m normally not a fan of the “___ days earlier” card, since it was overused on Alias and I grew sick of it. But it’s really effective here and the payoff scene between Clooney and Swinton is magnificent. Just like Eastern Promises and Zodiac, the movie feels a bit cold, efficient and business-like. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Also, I thought the end credits were great. No one in the theater moved as long as the camera focused on Clooney.

  • Drave


    MaryAnn, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about a specific scene in this movie; the random horses that accidentally saved Clayton’s life. I was thinking about how this scene is shown twice, once at the beginning and once at the end, and how this deliberately draws attention to a scene that could easily be construed as deus ex machina, because it isn’t really connected to anything, and it creates an easy way to have Clayton not blow up when he is expected to. In the beginning, I thought it was a strange scene, and I wondered why he would find such a sight interesting enough to investigate. At the end, I not only understood perfectly why he would go and look at the horses, but I also understood that the Clayton of four days earlier would not have noticed them. What blows my mind about the movie in general, and Clooney’s performance specifically, is that all this character development occurs in complete silence. All of the significant changes that Clayton goes through are shown in his eyes and body language, in the silent moments between the events. All of this combined, in my opinion, is what elevates this film from a great movie to an amazing movie. Any thoughts?

  • MBI

    I am going to be a pain in the ass in this thread.

    I hate that horse scene. It’s not exactly a bad scene, but it’s asked to support way more than it can. First off, it’s immediately preceded by the world’s most boring car chase — the film’s only attempt to quicken the pulse, and its most failed scene because I already know how it ends.

    Anyway, the horse scene — it’s not unbelievable. I get that he would do that. But Clayton’s whole character development is embodied in that one scene. It’s the only scene that indicates any change from the person he was at the beginning of those four days to the end. Indeed, if he has any qualms about his ethics, if he’s struggling with the things he does, that’s the only scene that indicates it. I don’t think that scene is strong enough to support such a change, particularly because his car explodes right afterward. This makes his turn towards the side of rightness seem less motivated by a sense of justice, and more motivated by revenge. I mean, does anyone really care about those cancer victims? Did Clayton? Did the audience? What “Erin Brockovich” did right (maybe the only thing it got right) was that you really felt for those cancer victims.

  • Drave

    Wow, I couldn’t disagree more. I think the changes he goes through are right up there on the screen, but they are maybe less obvious than in most movies, because, as I said, they are portrayed purely through his physical performance. There aren’t many specific scenes that script his struggle, but it is displayed in every moment of his performance. I think it’s a bold storytelling choice, and I can see why people either wouldn’t like it or wouldn’t pick up on it in the first place, but it’s definitely there. I felt much more like I was watching the development of an interesting person from the outside, rather than being inside his head where most directors place you. It seems like a much more participatory form of storytelling. Too few movies ask anything of their viewers these days.

  • Jitiy

    He did have a conversion. part of the sting is he mentions the “other 5 million for the victims”. And besides the price he pays for doing the right thing giving up his well payed janitor/fixer job. I think he just wanted to feel human–again.

    And does anybody remember seeing the horses in the red book, and how the son said something about a everybody having the same dream, only to find it was real. Then at the horse scene he kind of looks up to the sky and sighs, but with an expression that he seems to suddenly understand something. Don’t know but these scene seems to be highly symbolic. the horses are old and worn, bridles but no saddles. The have been used, maybe like he felt he was, amd with bridles ready to be used at a moments notice. Also strange was that they didn’t run from him, like there was some kind of kinship between them, the worn out used horses and the worn out used fixer. Maybe I am strecthing. But it was certainly great acting.

  • Jitiy

    forgive my bad typing and errors. It is late, and I should have previewed and corrected them.

    He did have a conversion. During the sting at the conclusion he mentions the “other 5 million for the victims”. Besides, the price he pays for doing the right thing will obviously result in his immediate dismissal by the firm he represents. I think he liked the way he felt doing the right thing. In the cab ride at the end after about a minute there is a little smug, like he enjoyed it. Maybe he he liked feeling good about himself.

    Does anybody remember seeing the horses in the red book, and how the son said something about a everybody having the same dream, only to find it was real? Then at the horse scene he kind of looks up to the sky and sighs, but with an expression that he seems to suddenly understand something. Don’t know but this scene seems to be highly symbolic. The horses are old and worn, they have bridles but no saddles; thus like Michael ready to be used at a moments notice. Also strange was that they didn’t run from him, like there was some kind of kinship between them, the worn out used horses and the worn out used fixer. Maybe I am strecthing. But it was certainly great acting.

  • MBI

    He looks like a beaten dog in every scene, but I just don’t see any changes in him. Except maybe in that scene where he demands to know, “What if Arthur was right?” Even so, I laughed when Sydney Pollack told him that duh, of course he was right, where have you been? Seriously, how could he not know that? Anyways, I just don’t see any other sign of changes. He sure doesn’t struggle with signing that contract. I think a far superior treatment of similar material is “Changing Lanes” (which has Sydney Pollack in the exact same role) and I would even go so far as to say that Ben Affleck far outacts George Clooney. “Changing Lanes” is a much better illustration of an ethical dilemma, it shows what’s at stake and why.

    And I don’t get how being outside Clayton’s head makes it a “more participatory system of storytelling” — that seems to say the exact opposite. And I agree that Michael Clayton demands something from the viewer; I disagree that it rewards those demands. There’s nothing inherently challenging in the subject matter, just the endlessly gray aesthetics. It’s the definition of middlebrow. This movie downplays Clooney’s ethical dilemma so much it barely seems to exist at all.

  • Nathan


    I think you wanted Michael Clayton to be a whole other kind of movie. I’m sure it could not have been improved by Ben Affleck having a good cry at the end or some other similarly talented actor holding a sign reading: I Have Just Learned A Valuable Lesson.

    As it is, I think Clooney’s performance is the best I’ve seen all year and I hope he gets recognized for it.

  • MBI

    “I’m sure it could not have been improved by Ben Affleck having a good cry at the end or some other similarly talented actor holding a sign reading: I Have Just Learned A Valuable Lesson.”

    That can work, if it’s done with sincerity and honesty. The fact that we get this “from the outside,” as Drave put it, would indicate that we weren’t meant to care at all for the characters. How is this the right approach for this movie? I’ve seen some movies where we view everything from the outside and we were meant to feel nothing for any character, but is “Michael Clayton” really that movie?

    Realism is for realistic movies, which “Michael Clayton,” with its naked lawyers and corporate assassins and clearly screenwritten dialogue, is not. Manipulative devices only serve to manipulate, and at some point you have to cop to it. The heart of this movie is not complex at all — there’s the evil corporation, the sleazy law firm, and the hero who grows a conscience and fights the power. All the other stuff doesn’t really complicate the storyline as much as it distracts from it — Michael’s loser brother, the girl Arthur romances, the merger, the phone bugging, or the debt problems don’t really affect anything. The debt problems had the potential to affect something somewhere, but it never really did.

    Yeah, I did want this movie to be something different. Something with a pulse, tension, heat, suspense, something. The editing, direction, score, etc. are all very tasteful and professional, but dammit, that’s not art. Look at something like Schindler’s List, which uses a lot of self-conscious artistic touches; The Godfather, a very adult film which is also one of the most quotable and has dozens of iconic scenes; or even A Few Good Men, which has at least one truly memorable sequence. Is anyone going to really remember Michael Clayton? Really?

    I actually think Clooney’s charisma works against him as an actor — I don’t really buy him in anything other than heroic leading man roles where he’s always in charge of the situation. He’d make a great James Bond but a terrible Serpico. Wilkinson acted circles around him in this movie, but that’s because he was lucky enough to be playing a crazy man and thus was not constricted by the deadening demands of grey understatement.

    Yeah, he does mention the dead cancer victims but they’re hardly a presence in this film. I’m still not convinced he really cares about them. I sure didn’t.

  • Drave

    Well, I’m just going to have to say that I disagree and leave it at that. I don’t know how else to explain what I saw in it. Out of the 76 movies I have seen in theaters this year, I’m putting this one very near the top.

  • JT

    Is anyone going to really remember Michael Clayton? Really?

    Well, the opening monologue by an off-screen Tom Wilkinson is etched in my memory and so is the final scene. So yes, I’m going to remember Michael Clayton as one of the best movies of the year.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ll remember it, too, as one of the best of the year. Of movies I’ve seen so far, at least.

    I’m stunned that MBI can say that the complicating factors of Clayton’s life have nothing to do with his developing a conscience. The troubled brother, the impressionable son — oh my goodness, the family party! — everything builds a portrait of a man beset by troubles that he has always tried to escape or deny. And not particularly huge troubles or troubles of a nature that everyone has to deal with, just the messiness of real life. The scene with the son in the car, after the encounter with the brother… that’s a HUGE part of Clayton’s journey here.

    And of course the horses in the book and the horses on the hill are connected. I’m not even sure, though, whether you need to look for anything deeply “symbolic” in them (though I do believe there are numerous interpretations of them to be fairly and honestly made). Have you never been stopped in your tracks by simple coincidence? That could be enough to work here…

  • barry levene

    by andrew l Member since:
    06 January 2007
    Total points:
    218 (Level 1) When Clayton is in Arthur’s apartment after he has been murdered, be quickly leafs through the book ‘Realm and Conquest’. This is the book that serves as his son’s moral compass, and the book which Arthur discusses with Clayton’s son on the phone. It happens very quickly but when Clayton is looking though the book he briefly glimpses at the heading of a new chapter a picture of 3 horses standing on a hill.

    Clayton must have at some subconscious level registered this picture, and this is what causes him to stop in the car. He sees the 3 horses on the hilltop and that scene exactly replicates the picture in ‘Realm and Conquest’. By getting out of the car his life is saved as he escapes the bomb. So that picture, and the real horses, in effect save his life.

    This is a sign – from the gods or fate – call it what you will, that he has a choice. He can choose to do the right thing, take the right path, as the book reveals. He can decide on the morally correct course of action or not. It is his ethcial existential ephinany.

    This event causes him to decide to do the morally right thing and reveal ‘ U North’ for the evil they are, and expose their corrupt and murdering practices to the authorities by setting them up as in the final scene in the film.

    That’s my interpretation of the meaning of the ‘3 horses on the hill’ scene and its connection to the book ‘Realm and Conquest’. This book supplies the moral context underlying the plot and explains the denouement of the film.

  • MBI

    “Well, the opening monologue by an off-screen Tom Wilkinson is etched in my memory and so is the final scene.”

    I liked the opening monologue. In fact, every scene in Tom Wilkinson in it was great. (Exceptions: The scene where he romances the plaintiff over the phone, and the scene where he talks to Clooney’s kid.) But yeah, Tom Wilkinson and his character were awesome.

    The ending, though, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean the scene where he mentally kicks Tilda Swinton’s ass, or do you mean the credits, where he sits pensively in the cab? Because I hate them too, they just do not go together. What he should be doing is walking down the street in slow motion like a badass, possibly while the building behind him explodes. Just more of this movie trying to pretend it’s more conflicted than it really is, and I don’t know how you can expect people to pretend that Clayton has any problems after that last scene removed any trace of moral ambiguity off the guy until he sparkled like a diamond.

    The family party scene is boring. Much of the movie is. I hate the idea of this movie and movies like this, which think they can add depth to simplistic genre moves by sucking all the air out of the drama. This movie has not near the justification whatsoever for its austere tone and its boring dialogue. So he was inspired to get out of the car by his child’s book. So fucking what? And it’s not like I hate all cold, gray movies: I liked or loved Eastern Promises, Breach, In the Valley of Elah, Monster’s Ball, and I just came back from Ben Affleck’s astonishing Gone Baby Gone. Now there’s a movie with some real depth, some real ideas behind its worn genre framework. There’s nothing groundbreaking behind Michael Clayton, there’s just drama that thinks itself too important to try to elicit emotional reactions from its audience members. It’s Runaway Jury for people who don’t want to admit to liking Runaway Jury.

    God, I’ve thought too much about this movie. But I really, really hate it. As it stands right now, it has a firm lock on the obligatory annual Movie in the Flick Filosopher Yearly Top Ten That I Hate. There’s always at least one.

  • MaryAnn

    which think they can add depth to simplistic genre moves by sucking all the air out of the drama.

    I bet that was *exactly* the pitch to the studio: “Look, we’re gonna take simplistic genre film and suck all the air out of the drama! It’ll be awesome! And we’ll get Clooney!”

  • We saw and enjoyed Michael Clayton today.

    The movie is mostly subtle and quiet, except when Arthur goes into one of his manic phases.

    I loved the scene when Arthur and Michael’s son wind up chatting on the phone, quite by accident.

    I didn’t catch the connection between the horses and the fantasy book. In the first horse scene, Michael had clearly had an exhausting night and needed to clear his head. In the second horse scene, it’s clear Michael knows he’s been followed and is trying to think through the situation.

    Clooney tends to play a charming character who smiles a lot. In this movie, about the only time you see him smile is for about three seconds at the very end of the movie.

  • melanie

    Regarding the horse scene, I think the three horses represent truth most of all. I disagree with a
    previous poster about the “used up” element (a used up fixer) represented by the animals. Also, horses typically wear halters most of the time and they are not bridles, which are different pieces of leather equipment used when riding (they include a metal bit that goes into the horse’s mouth for control). I think the animals also symbolize beauty and freedom. Furter, the fact that there were three of them is a telling detail. It’s as if they are some sort of important triad: father, son, holy ghost, that sort of thing. Anyway, there are multiple horse references throughout the film. Arthur is the name of the manic attorney, much like Arthur of the round table, who not so coincidentally, rides HORSES! The four-legged hoofed animals for centuries have symbolized the best in our nature. They are regal and noble creatures, and if they don’t like you, they often will let you know. They are also perceptive and can sense fear. There’s no bullshit to the animals. Further, there are quite a few horses up in Westchester Cty., unlike Manhattan where the only place you can find a horse (for the most part) is Claremont stables (sp?) near Central Park…They may also allow MC to connect to nature in an immediate way.

  • jhiken

    First, I believe the picture in the “Realm and Conquest” book was of only one horse and a tree on a hill – not the three horses Clayton saw, but obviously an image close enough to trigger subconscious recognition and get him to stop and contemplate (up close) the moral turning point he is at. The image is the vision quest for Clayton as the book supposedly describes for its characters.

    Second, I totally disagree with MBI regarding the condition of Clayton at the movie’s end. Rather than “sparkling like a diamond,” he is now a man in his 50’s without a job, with no money, and resigned to the acceptance that his entire existence (work, friends, lifestyle) has been nothing but amoral slime. What is he now supposed to do? It’s awfully late to start over. I think the long cab ride perfectly reflects this depressing ambivalence.

    I loved the maturity of the character development. The villain (Swinton) was no more all-powerful and evil than the protagonist was virtuous and good. She was a pathetic and weak person whose life looked so empty, living out of suitcases and rehearsing every line to the mirror. Things were spiraling out of control for everybody in this movie. I was enthralled.

  • Agree 100% on Swinton.

    I’m not so sure Clooney has lost his job at the end. Remember, he wasn’t working for Swinton, he was working for Pollack. But he definitely needed some time to himself, to sort through the events of the last few days.

  • Orson

    “Brilliant!” You people are mindless 80s dupes!

    I laughed at the predictability of the plot points after the set-up. I left after 75 minutes because I couldn’t care less about anyone’s fate. Besides, I knew their fate. What “suspense?

    “Clayton” is just a noir verison of “Erin Brockovich” told from ther defendants and lawyers side.

    Most films that leap over plausibility at least distract one from thinking events thorugh; this one revels in its stupidity: 11 named people KNOW the secret (more than Watergate!), and probably a several dozen more; there is no FTC/FDA regualtion ins this film’s story about chemo-evil corps? how about epidemiologists? any bunch of smart corp lwyers would have settled and cut their losses, so obviously due to bad management; bu remember, we are now in the post-Enron era of corp evil, and this piece os much doesn’t cut is anymore; this ain’t the 80s people!

    “Brokovich” turned on the plausiblity of a cancer causing agent that doesn’t cause cancer when swallowed – only when inhaled – but a cuatious corporation heads off the possibility anyway. In other words, they act cuatiously, and this makes enormous sense from the plaintiff’s side. But “Clayton” turns on the plausibility of smart people being so dumb – and being continually rewarded for their idiocy. It insults anyone intelligence too much. If I want that, then – like with Die Hard IV’ – at least do me the dignity of distracting the viewer with action. Then I can suspend disbelief at least momentarilly. “Clatyon” revels in s-l-o-w, boring, pretentiousness when thinking things through leads to anger because the viewer is being abused.

    Anf finally, the law-firm’s essential “fixer” himself can’t get a job elsewhere in NYC? While knowing where all the skeletons are buried? Ludicrous. This “story” was just too painfuly portentious to take with any seriousness. So I up and left!

  • rrr

    “I am going to be a pain in the ass in this thread.”

    MBI, darling — you read as though you have vast and mighty amounts of pain-in-the-ass potential just in general.

    MAJ, duchess, I believe it’s “agri-business”, not “argi”.

    Your review is too elegant and rife with metaphor — as your reviews generally are — to be sullied with such.

  • MaryAnn

    Fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

    I work as a copyeditor professionally, and I do my best to make sure my own copy is clean before I post it, but it’s hard editing your own work — your mind fills in what it “knows” is supposed to be there, and doesn’t always see what actually *is* there.

  • A.L.C.

    When Michael Clayton was being advertized I over heard Tom Wilkinson was going to be in it and paused for a second to pay attention, sometime later I took the time out to go see it, but was struck as how simple the idea of the movie was in contrast to the intense suspense advertized: ‘It was about SEEDS?’ I acknowledge George Clooney is a hard working actor and person as well, but my reason for going to see it was because I know whatever Tom Wilkinson is in he would capture my attention since he is a very brilliant actor / man.

  • MaryAnn

    If you think *Michael Clayton* is about “seeds,” you missed the point.

    Yes, Wilkinson is brilliant always, and particularly here.

  • Kelly

    What is the significance of him getting out of his car to go to see the three horses within minutes of the car exploding?

  • MaryAnn

    It’s the horses that get him out of the car so that he doesn’t die, and hence the plot can get set in motion.

    What is the significance of the horses to Clayton? That’s open to many interpretations. Does the coincidence of the similarity with the image in his son’s book make him reconsider the direction his life is going in? (Remember that the book is a moral guide for the son.) Does it make him think about his son, and perhaps decide that he needs a different life for himself so that he can make a better life for the kid? Perhaps neither — perhaps both.

  • marko

    Michael Clayton is a great film.

    I loved the reference to “the God of Death – Shiva.” And both characters were right: the Chief Litigator had played a role in poisoning folks for corporate profit before a manic episode made him change his mind-set. And Michael Clayton played the role of Shiva in his own way by bringing down the corporate witches and pricks to the degree that he could. It warms my heart just to think about it.

    Also, Mary An’s points regarding Clayton’s personal redemption are well taken and remind me of another movie about personal redemption: The Bad Lieutanant.

  • marko

    Having seen Michael Clayton for the first time two days ago, I am still thinking about it, and it has become one of my favorite films.

    The woman who speaks for the corporation and gives the green light for the dirty work of murder to be done is quite interesting.

    First, in scenes in which she is rehersing lines for the coporate position in the commercial and in it’s defense: is she troubled because it’s difficult to memorize material that is souless and dry or because her conscience is bothering her – I think the dry nature of her task is what gives her a headache for the commerical, but it’s difficult to tell is her conscience isn’t pricked to some degree as she defends the poisoining of farm families.

    Then, in the final scene when Clayton destroys what she thinks she has won – she continues the chess game, trying for the advantage – knowing that if she can meet with Clayton outside she can still have him killed. But when Clayton skillfully “checkmates” her, she trembles and takes a knee in final submission when the police arrive -Wonderful writing and performance.

  • don

    I thought about the horses, were they the three brothers? The father, son, and holy ghost to a irish catholic police family? a metaphor, for Hosesty, truth, justice, you name the three? Was it realted to the horse’s in the child’s book. Was it in refeerence to farm animals killed by the product that killed the people? I don’t know, but it saved his life.

  • joe

    Saw MC just recently and I was somewhat disappointed. I kept thinking through the movie…havent i seen this before? The ending was predictable as well. Lawyer takes down greedy corrupt company theme. All in all 3 and 1/2 stars, great performance by Clooney.

  • DL

    The horses scene is problematic. It’s not plausible he would notice the horses on the hill as he’s driving. He’s driving fast and recklessly on a narrow winding road at dawn. I think he notices the horses after he stops. So the question is, why does he stop, and why there? I watched the movie a couple of times, but couldn’t come up with a good enough explanation.

  • sajid

    man..just wanted to know what the horses symbolize. after reading a few comments and then watching the scene myself here it goes. Micheal has his job on the conscience and if what he used to do or what he does is right. This can be noticed by the scene with the guy that ran over somebody. This is what brings him to the horses in my opinion. Somebody mentioned that the horses were sad and used or even had a long unworthy life, as did Micheal (divorced, in debt, not happy). So he looks at these horses and he can relate to them, but he really doesnt want to be them. This is when the explosion is a symbol too, it makes him desire for revenge and righteousness. It’s as if he died in that car and was reincarnated at the same moment.

  • Julieta

    About the scene when Michael Clayton is like hypnotised by horses. I think it’s a very important scene and that’s why it’s repeated. I think that the view of the horses and his interest in them(which saves his life)is connected to the fact that he saw that scene in the red book which the character played by Tom Wilkinson left in his house. Apparently it was Michael’s son’s book, but Why does Michael realise something while looking at the book? Because inside that book, there was a document which said that U North’s pesticide or chemical product was really dangerous for health and could produce cancer. What I think is that the picture of the horse was there, to prevent Michael Clayton’s death, and the one who put it there, was Tom Wilkinson’s character. Now, what kind of man can predict or know that this would happen? I think that probably he didn’t have a mental breakdown, probably, he was kind of a supernatural character, I don’t know. I’m at a loss here. But I definitely believe that the book he left (with the cover of Clayton’s son adventure book but with a secret document inside) saved Clayton’s life. In fact, if you carefully take a look at the scene when Clayton takes a look at the book, you can see that he is discovering something in his eyes. Do you think my interpretation is too farfetched?

  • dave komoroff

    DL is correct, horses lured him away from the car;
    however not sure what made him stop the car there. Wonderful movie, I look forward to seeing it again . . . in a couple of months!

  • Max

    This movie was just another typical Oscar winning pile of crap. But worse. If I thought I could sue for the two odd hours it sucked out of my life I probably would. Bizarre but overt symbolic bs does not a classic make. I like George, but Batman and Robin was by far the superior movie.

  • MaryAnn


  • varun

    Yes Julieta. It is very far fetched :p

  • o2miller

    I was really surprised that the main character from Caddyshack (Michael O’Keefe) could pull off playing a mean corporate cutthroat lawyer without a single trademark smirk and appear to be a serious actor.

    And Sidney Pollack, well, he was his usual brilliant self.

  • lulu

    MC drives to the spot with the horses because it is the place where the hit-and-run accident allegedly took place. my take is that the accident is a set-up, a ruse, a way to get him up into the country so he can be killed by the bomb. i don’t believe there was any such accident, and it’s clear from MC’s face, voice, body language in the house, that he doesn’t either. the man has been put up to it. something smells and so MC drives to the location to check it out. the rest with the horses, we know. the horses are calm, serene, of the earth. the good force. they turn and run after the explosion because they are frightened, of course, but also because their work is done.

  • Rocko2

    Did anyone else feel the film ended on a confusing note. I get the movie, okay, so please don’t explain it to me. My problem is that when the movie ends, Michael Clayton’s problems are really just begInning despite all of the
    shit that went down in the film. If I ask any pointed questions they are only going to give the film away and I really don’t want to get a spoilers alert label. The fact is though, because of Clayton’s friendship with Eden, it seems he has taken on a double role in the matter of his agency, and there will probably be a whole lot of people wanting to grill his ass. Not to mention, he’s still broke. With the rep he now has, who will even want to hire him… and how long might he last with all of those players looking for him. Instead of being where he was, while the credits rolled, the writers may have wanted to put him on a jet headed far, far, away. The movie is good, but the ending threw me………

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