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Review: Michael Clayton

Discarding his heartthrob image, Hollywood actor George Clooney gets under the skin of 'Mr Fix It' with utter conviction, writes Rashid Irani.

movie reviews Updated: Apr 22, 2008 17:42 IST
Rashid Irani

Michael Clayton
: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton
Direction : Tony Gilroy
Rating : ****

Unarguably, George Clooney is one of American cinema’s finest actors today. Determined to extend the range of his skills beyond the blockbuster Ocean’s movies, he has involved himself in serious-minded projects like Syriana and GoodNight, and GoodLuck.

Michael Clayton is another case in point. Exuding cool charisma, Clooney portrays an in-house ‘fixer’ at one of Manhattan’s largest law firms. His job is to clean up the messy personal problems of the company’s high-profile clients.

Now, he has to deal with the mess made by the firm’s attorney (Tom Wilkinson in terrific form), who suffers a nervous breakdown while defending a multi-million dollar class action suit against an agro-chemical corporation.

Faced with the biggest challenge of his career, Clayton grapples with the conflict of professional ethics with personal values. In addition to family hassles and mounting debts, he has to contend with the corporation’s chief counsel (Swinton, suitably sweaty ’n’ sinister).

Reminiscent of issue-centric dramas such as Erin Brockovich, The Firm, Insider and The Constant Gardener, this legal conspiracy thriller hooks the viewer in a firm grip from the very outset.

For his directorial debut, Tony Gilroy, scriptwriter of the Bourne trilogy, adopts a subtle, non-flashy style that allows the performances to remain at the forefront. Several ingenious twists and turns add up to a complex narrative mosaic.

Among the credible horde of subsidiary characters, there is Clayton’s cynical boss (veteran director Sydney Pollack), and two estranged brothers: one a sullen cop (Sean Cullen), the other an ex-junkie (David Lansbury).

The meticulously detailed production design, fluid cinematography and James Newton Howard’s mood-enhancing background music score are major assets.

Discarding his heartthrob image, George Clooney gets under the skin of 'Mr Fix It' with utter conviction. His brief end credits scene in a taxi is, by itself, a master class in acting.

Uncompromisingly off the beaten track, this one’s for those who crave sense and substance at the movies. Others may be less enthusiastic.