A review of “Michael Clayton” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for profanity and violence

Run Time: 2 hours

 

 

George Clooney takes a compelling star turn as a relentlessly churning cog in a crooked corporate wheel.

Michael Clayton (Clooney) is a “fixer” for slick law house Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, a loyal company cleaner who works behind the scenes greasing the wheels for attorneys and clients alike. He spin doctors his way through the legal muck; hit-and-runs, shoplifting wives and the far more urgent matter of the firm’s own brilliant senior litigator (Tom Wilkinson as Arthur Edens) who’s gone off his meds.

And off the deep end. In a blazing epiphany that sets the narrative on its ear Arthur goes completely schizoid, insisting among other things that he’s drenched in amniotic fluid while experiencing a cathartic rebirth of epic proportion.

Smooth-as-silk Clayton is dispatched to do damage control but it appears that Arthur was on to something big before his drugless psychosis; turning the tables on a giant toxic cover-up and three billion dollar class action lawsuit against K, B & L agrochemical super-client U/North.

Soon enough Clayton is going toe to toe with U/North’s steely in-house chief counsel (Tilda Swinton) and racing against the clock to pull together the unraveling threads of a massive conglomerate’s tapestry of lies.

“Clayton” is a resonant throwback with deep roots to the political thrillers of the 1970s; slick, smart and saturated in dramatic paranoia. A brainy pastiche of set-ups, pay-offs, company malfeasance and revenge in absorbing shades of grey. Stylish and spare, “Clayton” brims with conscience; establishing its persuasive claim in stark bursts of truth while holding its more enigmatic secrets close to the vest.

It doesn’t hurt to have a crack cast of A-listers working their magic. Clooney as the suave bagman who harbors a gambling addiction and loan shark debt; Wilkinson as the remorseful big gun standing on the precipice of insanity, and Swinton; cool, calm and desperately trying for collected in the face of professional suicide.

One or two moments ring false but the tension is unfailingly hot-wired and sans CGI fireworks. Good old-fashioned drama the good old-fashioned way.