Faced with moral corruption within the corporate culture, a lawyer gets sucked into a dangerous cover-up when a colleague threatens to expose the conspiracy behind the settlement of multimillion-dollar class-action suit against one of his firms major clients.
While Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has always yearned to be made partner, hes spent 17 years as a fixer for New Yorks prestigious Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. When theres a sticky or embarrassing situation, Clayton has the contacts to minimize the mess or make it disappear. But, at 45, and a divorced father with a young son, hes broke and in debt the result of gambling and a failed family business venture. So when the lead litigator (Tom Wilkinson), previously diagnosed as a manic-depressive, has a crisis of conscience while defending U-North, a multinational agrichemical conglomerate, the senior exec (Sydney Pollack), who is negotiating a crucial merger, puts Clayton in charge of the case. But U-Norths ambitious, duplicitous chief counsel (Tilda Swinton) knows theres been corporate malfeasance and her job rests on protecting their interests at any cost.
Most of the plot is revealed in flashback, after Claytons car explodes in flames on a deserted country road. Despite its scrambled structure and trenchant dialogue, long-time screenwriter (The Bourne Identity and its sequels) and first-time director Tony Gilroy makes this character-driven, multi-layered legal thriller compelling. Also credit Robert Elswits (Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck) cinematography and James Newton Howards subtle musical score.
Along with power-player George Clooney – terrific in challenging confrontational scenes – its packed with top-notch supporting performances from Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and actor/director Sydney Pollack. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Michael Clayton is an arresting, engrossing 8. It would be a crime not to see it.