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Michael Clayton is a film about loyalty, corruption, and men in pain. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a “fixer” in a law firm who acts like a janitor – he cleans up a client’s mess in order to minimize the damage from a lawsuit. A lawyer in the same firm (Tom Wilkinson) stops taking his medication and has a breakdown in the middle of a disposition. He starts ranting and raving about the systems, the organisms, the monsters that are the law firm and the corporation it is defending in a lawsuit.This opening leads to a movie that, in the end, feels like a watered-down version of 1970’s paranoia thrillers like The Conversation and The Parallax View (both of which the director supposedly watched on-set repeatedly). But it’s not a bad thing: I really liked The Parallax View, and The Conversation is one of my all-time favorite movies. So, just because Michael Clayton is lesser doesn’t mean it’s bad; it has a wonderful air of nostalgia to it. Just as Raiders of the Lost Ark echoed people’s love for serials, Michael Clayton does so for old-school thrillers.

The opening includes shots of the law firm’s office, the hallways, the individual cubicles and rooms, as if exploring the innards of the “organism” that Wilkinson speaks of in the beginning of the movie. All the actors are great: Clooney is charming, cool, and relaxed as usual. Wilkinson is enchanting in his fits of rage. Tilda Swinton shows how ruthless she can be in a role. Sydney Pollack is… well, Sydney Pollack: just as calm and collected as he is in every movie, and he works every time. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these actors were nominated for an Oscar, especially Wilkinson or Swinton, who proves herself in her final scene, a stare-down with Clooney. The ending has a sweet touch with a final shot that instantly reminded me of The Long Good Friday, one of the best crime films. (If you don’t know the ending, rent the movie immediately.) The last shot, although unbelievably simple, engages us in a conversation with what’s up on the screen as it begs us to ask questions and doesn’t give away any easy answers.

Despite what some people may have hyped, Michael Clayton doesn’t rank alongside the best films of the year. However, at the end, I felt satisfied, and that’s all I really ask from a movie: make me walk out the theater feeling just a little better than when I came in. The movie didn’t completely grasp me at times, and I thought the movie meandered a bit (which some consider critical for the kind of movie Michael Clayton is). But if the point of the movie was to bring back memories of the thrillers-of-old, then I find it successful, and I would recommend it.


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