Michael Clayton

Solid but stodgy legal flick, too much in awe of its star

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DIR: TONY GILROY | ST: GEORGE CLOONEY

As the titular flawed hero, [b]George Clooney[/b] is a “fixer” for a [b]New York[/b] corporate law firm, whose boss ([b]Sydney Pollack[/b]) uses him for dirty work. Despite being a master of charm, spin and damage limitation, Clayton has hit middle age jaded, divorced and, thanks to a gambling habit, in debt. When a top litigator ([b]Tom Wilkinson[/b]) has a breakdown, threatening a multi-million dollar settlement, Clayton is sent to straighten him out. A clinical careerist ([b]Tilda Swinton[/b]) would rather he didn’t. Clayton finds himself in the novel position of addressing his conscience, and doing the “right” thing.

Steady and slow, [b]Gilroy[/b]’s debut (after writing two parts of the [i]Bourne[/i] trilogy) aspires to the Pakula/Lumet school of resonantly understated drama, which clearly appealed to [b]Clooney[/b]. Yet it never quite takes off. The message that big law firms do callous things is hardly new. It was handled better in the similar [i]Erin Brockovich[/i], and [b]Gilroy[/b], who takes ages to get from A to B, already visited it (rather floridly) in his script for [i]The Devil’s Advocate[/i]. He lingers longingly on [b]Clooney[/b] and [b]Swinton[/b], to the stage where even such fine actors flinch. The flashback structure galls, and despite some sharp lines, relished by [b]Clooney[/b], it’s all a bit John Grisham.

[b]CHRIS ROBERTS[/b]

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