Michael Clayton

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The title figure is the designated fixer for the elite Manhattan law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, touted as a “miracle worker” but more modest in his self-assessment: “I’m not a miracle worker, I’m a janitor. The smaller the mess, the easier it is for me to clean it up.” And a three-billion-dollar class action suit against his firm’s biggest client, United Northfield, or UNorth for short, makes a very big mess. Aside from being George Clooney, the hero doesn’t look like much. Crushed under a mountain of debt, sworn off the gambling habit (notwithstanding a prefatory relapse at the poker table), run ragged by his job, begging his boss for an advance and getting the brush-off, he has little time for his neglected son and none for a shave. In addition to all that, Clooney has firmly suppressed the head-waggling smugness that so often chills his charm. In fact he has sunken into the part quite deeply and depressively. We keep waiting to see some sign of a miracle. And waiting. In its bald essentials — the soulless law firm, the monolithic corporation, the robotic hit men, the stirrings of conscience and poses of piety, the mechanics of comeuppance — the film is fairly standard-issue. But screenwriter (the Bourne series) and first-time director Tony Gilroy, beginning with the nonlinear narrative arrangement, has devised an all-over strategy of tease and obfuscation, very clever at disguising the lack of cleverness. Very clever, that is, in presentation, not in plot, character, idea. If we sometimes grow weary of not knowing what the hell people are talking about, we never altogether get weary of wanting to know. Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack. (2007) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R | 2 hours
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