Cri­sis man­age­ment

MICHAEL CLAY­TON Di­rected by Tony Gil­roy. Star­ring Ge­orge Clooney, Tilda Swin­ton, Tom Wilkin­son, Syd­ney Pol­lack, Michael O’Keefe, Ken Howard, De­nis O’Hare 15A cert, gen re­lease, 120 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - MICHAEL DWYER

GE­ORGE Clooney por­trays the ti­tle char­ac­ter as a man on the edge, his face as ashen as his hair. Michael Clay­ton has been with a high-pow­ered Man­hat­tan law firm for 15 years but has not been made a part­ner de­spite his dili­gent ser­vice as a fixer tak­ing care of the dirty work for the firm’s wealthy clients. Clay­ton’s mar­riage has bro­ken up, his ven­ture into the restau­rant busi­ness has been a costly fail­ure, and as his debts ac­cu­mu­late, he suc­cumbs again to his gam­bling ad­dic­tion.

Flash­backs re­veal the tur­bu­lent events of the pre­vi­ous four days in Clay­ton’s life. The firm’s lead­ing trial at­tor­ney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkin­son), is de­fend­ing agri-chem­i­cal com­pany U/North in a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar class ac­tion suit. Clay­ton is put on the case when Edens cracks, strip­ping naked dur­ing a de­po­si­tion hear­ing.

Mean­while, Marty Bach (Syd­ney Pol­lack), the firm’s co-founder, is dodg­ing spec­u­la­tion about a pos­si­ble merger. And Karen Crow­der (Tilda Swin­ton), the gen­eral coun­sel at U/North, is de­ter­mined to achieve a speedy so­lu­tion to the law­suit that will be eco­nom­i­cally ac­cept­able to the com­pany.

Michael Clay­ton marks the di­rect­ing de­but of Tony Gil­roy, the screen­writer of the re­cent Bourne tril­ogy and the mis­fired 1997 le­gal drama, The Devil’s Ad­vo­cate, in which the head of a law firm proves to be the devil in­car­nate.

Gil­roy cites a long-run­ning Gen­eral Mo­tors law­suit, which be­gan in the 1970s and cost that com­pany close on ¤5 bil­lion, as his in­spi­ra­tion for U/North strand of his screen­play.

In the cre­ation of his four prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters and the con­flict be­tween them, Gil­roy’s screen­play re­calls Net­work, Sid­ney Lumet’s scathing 1977 satire on the television in­dus­try. Net­work also fea­tured a sea­soned prac­ti­tioner faced with a cri­sis of con­science, a glacially ruth­less and am­bi­tious fe­male ex­ec­u­tive, a com­pany boss who preaches the val­ues of cor­po­rate power, and a vet­eran who is a mas­ter of his craft, gets mad as hell and can’t take it any­more.

Both movies ex­pose and con­front worlds with­out prin­ci­ples or ethics and where just about ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing has a price. How­ever, Paddy Chayevsky’s acer­bic script for Net­work was more clearly fo­cused than Gil­roy’s sce­nario, which is un­wisely clut­tered with largely su­per­flu­ous sub­plots re­gard­ing Clay­ton’s fam­ily com­pli­ca­tions. And it piv­ots on a co­in­ci­dence that is quite re­mark­ably con­ve­nient.

Michael Clay­ton re­mains en­gross­ing, fu­elled by sev­eral well-staged set-pieces and by the driven, im­mersed per­for­mances. Swin­ton is out­stand­ing, most mem­o­rably in a clev­erly edited se­quence that cuts be­tween Karen’s ner­vous re­hearsal of an im­por­tant board­room speech and her im­pla­ca­bly cool pre­sen­ta­tion as she de­liv­ers it.

A case of con­science: Clooney and Wilkin­son in Michael Clay­ton

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