It was nearly ten years ago that Cristeta brought us Tony Gilroy‘s then-recent film Michael Clayton.  At this point, if there was a short, I doubt anybody remembers – I certainly don’t.  And to show you just how long I’ve procrastinated on this, the film has been on my DVR for over two and a half years.  All right, then!  Let’s live review it!

I’m sorry, is my directing interfering with your phone call?

Midnight.  A law firm.  Booming in activity, seemingly working on a settlement for a six-year old case.  Meanwhile George Clooney’s Michael Clayton leaves an underground poker game and gets a call regarding a client who “thinks” he has hit a pedestrian.  This gives us a first look at what Clayton does – he’s one of the law firm’s “fixers”.  And this one, he quickly realizes, he can’t fix, so he calls in a local trial attorney.  He understands which battles he can win.

And maybe I’ll find me a sailor, a tailor/And maybe together we’ll make mother well

As dawn is breaking, Clayton stops his car by a rural grassy hill, with three horses atop it.  He climbs the hill to look at the horses.  And his car blows up while he’s there.  That was lucky!

Four days earlier…

After the obviously-divorced Clayton picks up his kid to take him to school, he oversees a restaurant auction – his own restaurant, or technically one he financed for his deadbeat brother, has gone under and he’s still $75K in the hole.  That’s $75K he doesn’t have. (This side plot eventually gets fixed up, though to be honest it really is entirely peripheral, so I’ll say no more about it.)

It’s on par with a night of heavy pilling

And then the real thing hits.  An attorney (Arthur Edens) who has spent the past six years defending a carcinogenic pesticide has gone off his meds and stripped naked during a deposition for a $3B class action lawsuit, having had an epiphany that he is wasting his life defending an indefensible chemical.  Clayton is called in to get the attorney under control, while Chief Counsel for the chemical company UNorth (Karen Crowder) is also trying to get a handle on the situation.

ODiddle ODiddle ODumpling, my son John

But Edens goes AWOL from Clayton’s care, and from wiretaps and documents that have been recovered, it looks like Edens is trying to make the case FOR the plaintiffs in the class action he is supposedly defending.  Somehow Edens has gotten hold of an internal UNorth document indicating that their scientific staff knew it was dangerous, and he’s beginning to get this info out to the plaintiffs.  So Karen Crowder calls out a hit on him – they make it look like a drug overdose in his apartment.

However, in the meantime, Edens has flown a plaintiff out to New York (now “abandoned” and staying at a motel), and when Clayton finds out, he meets with her.  From what she says, Clayton begins to believe that Edens’ suicide wasn’t one, so he procures an evidence seal and then breaks into Edens’ apartment to snoop – where he gets caught by the police.  But, before that he does find a receipt which leads him to a print shop, where Edens has made almost $1000 worth of copies of the internal documents he has.

However, what Clayton doesn’t know is that Crowder’s hit men have been staking out both the plaintiff in her motel and the Edens apartment – in fact it would appear they were the ones to call 911 for his break in of the apartment.  And, while he has fallen back into gambling in the underground card room, they’re the ones putting a car bomb into his car.

And boom.

Io Sono L’assassino

So Clayton, now finally hip to what is going on, tosses his watch and wallet into the burning car and ditches into the woods.  You know, I THINK they’ll miss the human remains.  Apparently not.  Apparently he is believed to have died.  OR – maybe that’s a story.  Because he confronts Crowder outside a meeting where UNorth is finalizing a settlement and demands $10M from the rattled woman who thought he was dead.  Except he was actually wearing a wire for the NYPD.  The end.

Is it a good movie?  Sure.  Is it a great movie?  I don’t know.  The “big bad corporation” playing the bad guy in a film is not much more creative than making the antagonists Nazis.  I mean, at least here we’ve got a motivation – a pesticide that they knew was dangerous and a class action lawsuit, but I still don’t love it – it seems too ready-made.  And Clooney…I think he’s done better.  Besides that the whole “Oh, I need to go look at these horses to coincidentally avoid being blown up in my car” thing, it’s a bit too convenient.

Tilda Swinton, on the other hand, does an amazing job in this film portraying a corporate lawyer who is just in way over her head – yes, she’s the antagonist, but she really steals the film even while you’re waiting for her to get he comeuppance.  In the end, I feel like this is one of those movies that have a pretty decent journey, but don’t weigh very heavily once they’re over.  I mean to be honest, I remembered the stupid hill with the horses (well not the horses, but the hill) and as Clooney is climbing the hill, I remembered that we were going to be back at the hill at the end of the movie.  But did I remember that it was a bookend?  No, I had the impression it was a different visit.  Did I remember the car bomb?  No.  And this is exactly why I do these writeups.  In another ten years from now, I’m not going to remember what this movie was about.  And I guess that’s kind of an indictment, isn’t it?

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