The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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‘Michael Clayton’ makes audiences think

So many movies that pervade the multiplexes nowadays insult even the most average viewer’s intelligence. “Michael Clayton,” starring George Clooney and written and directed by Tony Gilroy, is no such movie. If anything, it leans in the opposite direction and may take several viewings to fully understand and appreciate everything that goes on in this lush character study.

“Michael Clayton” features an attention-demanding performance from Clooney as the titular character, a lawyer who is continually referred to as a “fixer,” the best there is in fact.

Clayton works for Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, a law firm headed by Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack, director of “Out of Africa” and “Tootsie”) who is currently representing an agricultural company, U North, in a class action lawsuit. It seems a U North weed killer damages human tissue and may have caused the death of more than a few farmers.

Brilliant attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson, “In The Bedroom,” “Batman Begins,” “The Last Kiss”) is handling the U North case for the firm until he has a breakdown in the courtroom. The firm assumes Edens is overworked and sends in Clayton to work his magic, but Clayton finds that there may be more to the U North case than meets the eye.

George Clooney proves himself as a master of his craft with his performance in this film. He manages to bring a Danny Ocean charm to the role while also providing gravitas and intensity. It would not be surprising to see Clooney score an Academy Award nomination for his work here. He is the lifeblood of this film.

Sydney Pollack is one of the most talented people in filmmaking and only reminds audiences of that with his performance in “Michael Clayton.” Pollack is also credited as a producer of the film, along with Clooney. As Marty Bach, Pollack is alternately despicable and almost likable. One minute he is unflinchingly callous, and the next he is angrily grieving for a coworker. It’s a solid performance that you would expect from someone who knows filmmaking like Pollack.

Tom Wilkinson is captivating as capsizing lawyer Arthur Edens. He commands the screen whenever he is in a scene and provides some absolutely chilling moments. He and Clooney work beautifully off one another as their characters radiate a mutual respect.

Tilda Swinton (“Vanilla Sky,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”) also stars as U North litigator Karen Crowder. Swinton portrays the panicked face of the company with raw urgency and relentless desperation. Crowder represents much of what the film stands against and Swinton does a commendable job of shouldering that responsibility. Her expressions are priceless and watching her occasionally lose her composure or let her guard down is one of the unheralded treats of this film.

Tony Gilroy helms the film competently, providing audiences with a bleak view of the corporate world. Gilroy was the screenwriter for all three “Bourne Identity” films and seems to bring some of that sensibility here. “Michael Clayton” often feels like an intelligent film made more accessible to the masses by making scenes shorter and dialogue snappier. However, the film often feels disjointed and jumpy, as though a few key scenes were left on the cutting room floor. A few subplots go nowhere or seem irrelevant, such as one involving Clayton’s son and family, until you consider the film as a character study rather than a law thriller.

Overall, “Michael Clayton” is worth the effort it takes to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of the plot. The dialogue and intensive character development is impressive and the tremendous performances alone are enough to earn the film a recommendation. “Michael Clayton” is now playing at the AMC Northpark 15 and the Angelika Film Center in Mockingbird Station.

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