Up until now, Tony Gilroy is best known as one of the scribes of the mega-successful “Jason Bourne” film series. But that may change with the showing of his feature directorial debut, “Michael Clayton,” which plays all the major fall film festivals, Venice, Deauville, and Toronto, before opening theatrically October 5.
The stellar cast is headed by George Clooney, vet American director-actor Sydney Pollack, and two brits, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson. With such an ensemble can the movie go wrong
Clooney plays Michael Clayton, an in-house fixer at one of the largest corporate law firms in New York City. At the behest of the firms co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack), Clayton, a former prosecutor from a family of cops, takes care of Kenner, Bach & Ledeens dirtiest work. Clayton cleans up clients messes, handling anything from hit-and-runs and damaging stories in the press to shoplifting wives and crooked politicians. Though burned out and discontented in his job, Clayton is inextricably tied to the firm.
At the agrochemical company U/North, the career of in-house chief counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) rests on the settlement of the suit that
Kenner, Bach & Ledeen is leading to a seemingly successful conclusion.
When the firms top litigator, the brilliant Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has an apparent breakdown and tries to sabotage the entire case, Marty Bach sends Michael Clayton to tackle this unprecedented disaster and, in doing so, Clayton comes face to face with the reality of who he has become.
As first-time director, Gilory had to content with Clooney, who wanted to direct the script and himself an accomplished helmer (the good, Oscar-nominated “Good Night and Good Luck” and before that, the bad “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”). With over 20 features to his credit, Pollack is also better known as filmmaker, winning a Director Oscar for “Out of Africa” and making a string of hits like “Tootsie” and The Firm”), but he has also done double duty as an actor in high-profile films, such as Kubrick's swan song, “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Both stars and directors have expressed their admiration foro films of the late 1960s and the 1970s, arguably the last Golden Age of American cinema, with such highlights as Pollack's own “They Shoot Horses, Don't They” (1969), Pakula's “Klute,” The Parallax View,” and All the President's Men,” and Sidney Lumet's urban dramas and policiers, such as “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” and satires such as “Network.”
All of the above are known for being intelligent, character-driven dramas with ethical and professional dilemmas at their centerand a good deal of both moral and emotional ambiguity.
Though a vehicle for Clooney, without whose participation it could not have been made, the modestly budgeted “Michael Clayton” did not offer the star his usual paycheck. But it did offer a meaty, challenging role, more in the vein of “Syriana” than the frivolous “Ocean's Eleven” pictures, the last of which, “Ocean's Thirteen” was a commercial disappointment.