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George Clooney Faces Own Conscience in 'Michael Clayton'


A corporate lawyer is torn between loyalty to his corrupt firm and his conscience in the new movie thriller, Michael Clayton. It stars George Clooney as the title character and is directed by Bourne series screenwriter Tom Gilroy in his first film behind the camera. VOA's Penelope Poulou has more.

Michael Clayton is not your ordinary lawyer. He is a specialist -- a fixer -- at the law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. His bosses call on him when they need someone to bend the truth or clean up after their clients' unlawful acts.

(Michael Clayton) "There is no play here. There is no angle, there is no champagne room, I'm not a miracle worker. I'm just the janitor. The math on this is simple. The smaller the mess, the easier it is for me to clean up..."

Until his close friend Arthur Edens, the firm's most brilliant litigator, turns against its most powerful client. U/North is an agrochemical company facing a three billion dollar lawsuit for spreading carcinogens around farming communities. In a moment of truth and revelation, Arthur Edens turns to his friend, Michael Clayton and says: "I have blood on my hands....I am an accomplice."

Clayton, who is trying to bring Arthur back to his sense says: "You are a manic depressive."

Arthur IS on a collision course against U/North and Clayton fails to stop him. So, Karen Crowder, an ultra-ambitious U/North attorney, puts out a contract to kill Arthur.

Actress Tilda Swinton delivers a masterful performance as the domineering, corporate lawyer. She says her character is being given this task to be tougher than any man might be. Because if she balks, even for a second, she's going to be accused for being some …"girl."

The same pressures that bring out the worst in Karen Crowder make Michael Clayton a better man. After his friend's apparent suicide, he faces a crisis of conscience, as this excerpt of the movie shows:

(Clayton) "What if Arthur was onto something?

(Clayton's boss, Marty) "What do you mean? On to what?"

(Clayton) "U/North. What if he wasn't crazy? What if he was right?

(Marty) "Right about what? That we are on the wrong side?"

(Clayton) "Wrong side, wrong way, everything, all of it."

(Marty) "This is news? This case reeked from day one, 15 years in, and I got to tell you how we pay the rent?"

George Clooney interprets Michael Clayton as a jaded, beaten man. Clooney offers such an unassuming, next-door-neighbor sort of performance that we do not notice his legendary good looks. And the rest of the cast is equally remarkable. Tom Wilkinson plays the passionate, bullheaded Arthur, who teeters between brilliance and lunacy. Sidney Pollock is Marty Back, Clayton's affable but malleable boss.

In his directorial debut, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, best known for his work on the Bourne Ultimatum series, delivers a cerebral thriller with a dense plot, intelligent dialogue, and mounting suspense.

"It's a lot easier to be a fraud and call yourself a director than it is to be a fraud and call yourself a writer," says Tony Gilroy. "You can't fake it as a writer. You can fake it as a director and a lot of people do. By the same token, when the job is done well, and the people who are masters at it, they really are maestros at it, they really are somebody who pulls everything together."

This is not a movie for those who want easy thrills and chills and car chases. Its many nuances must be carefully tracked through many flashbacks.

The ending of Michael Clayton is satisfying, but what makes the film special is the tense ride that takes us there.