I can't recall the last time I watched a satisfying lawyer related movie, and it brings me back to the time in the 90s where the John Grisham novels were being rushed to be made into films, starting with The Firm, and somehow stopping abruptly after the release of The Runaway Jury. While the Grisham novels always have a top lawyer with just morals, this one has almost everyone being a shady lawyer battling against one another's wits and wills.
Michael Clayton is a lawyer movie, of the different kind. There's no courtroom debate with your objections, your sustains and a triggerhappy-with-a-hammer judge, but here we see more of the workings behind the scenes, set in a fictional top law firm Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, which has lawyers for hire to take on cases for clients who are willing to dish out top money for top brains. George Clooney plays the titular character, whom many bill as the Miracle Worker. That's the fanciful title for the job, which like others whom one will describe as picking up the pieces, mopping the shit, in short, the janitor role in doing some of the dirty work to give the clients a leg up in litigation.
And that in itself is the draw of the movie. It doesn't shy away from making all lawyers look like greedy money grabbing scoundrels, though it does have a sense of honour amongst thieves as exuded by the Michael Clayton character. In fact, here's possibly one of the most interesting anti-heroes (if I may call him that) who uses his connections and through the pulling of the right strings, get things done, at whatever the cost, with whatever the measures and options available. You mess up, he comes in to clean it up, and being the enigma he is in the circle, a client can't help but to feel confident that his troubles are well taken care of, and well worth the dollars paid for.
What makes the entire plot compelling, are the extremely well crafted characters. It's a good welcome to see Tilda Swinton back on the big screen after her outing some 2 years ago with The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and here she plays the legal counsel of a corporation U-North, who just got promoted into the hottest seat, and is desperate in using all means necessary to hold onto her position of power, which means settling a million dollar class action suit that impacts her bonus and standing. As with large firms, her U-North outsources the dirty work, for the guarantee of a scapegoat should something go wrong, to their vendor Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, and the long drawn case being led by the law firm's top gun Arthur Edens, played by the wonderful Tom Wilkinson, who goes berserk one day.
Tom Wilkinson has now gone into my books as one of my favourite character actors. His voice resonates, and his appearance lends certain gravitas to the picture. Here, he plays a scumbag lawyer (ok, so I associate every lawyer here as a scumbag) who has woken up to his senses (or succumbed to madness?), and now is holding onto dangerously incriminating smoking gun type evidence. I always thought how one could survive in a profession that requires you to constantly lie, to turn black into white and vice versa, basically to demean, probably character assassinate opponents and destroy their moral credibility. Takes a lot, doesn't it? And I wonder too how they sleep at night, knowing that they have perverted justice through their cunningness. Guess it's just a job. *shrug*
But an interesting "character" here, is the Corporation, represented by the law firm. As with all corporate entities, it's transfixed on its bottomline, market share, revenue and profits, so naturally it becomes beholden to its rich clients. If the client wants black to be called white, sure, that's what they'll do to maintain the big fish account, afraid that the client might take their business elsewhere. So morally bankrupt lawyers, do they exist?
Michael Clayton is excellent, for the gripping plot that leaves you guessing what next, for its pace, and best of all, the awesome rapid fire dialogue. It's a talkie movie through and through, without subtitles too, and that probably explained why some audience walked out of the movie midway, as they might have thought that Clooney was either wearing a costume, or performing quick wardrobe changes ala his Danny Ocean, but here, it's sombre shirt, tie and overcoat almost all the way. And it's not just a one-track movie, with minor subplots involving Clayton's personal life of a broken family, debt and a business that went the wrong way, that get tied in perfectly into the main track.
That said, this movie remains highly recommended, for those patience enough to experience all the curve balls being thrown at you every step of the way, through the narrative's four days leading to a satisfying wrap. Heavy reliance on Clooney's charisma to carry the movie through, and peppered with excellent supporting acts all around. Don't miss this!