Perhaps the best film of 2007, and also sadly one you may have missed, Michael Clayton is a stunning gem of a film, electrifying in its story arc, with restrained but gorgeous cinematography by the immensely talented Robert Elswit, and produced by a slew of greats including the late Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack (who also stars), Steven Soderbergh, and lastly George Clooney himself who also plays the titular character of Michael Clayton.
George Clooney, the mega Hollywood star acts in the distinctly unglamorous role of a qualified lawyer who has, due to his own moral laxness, been demoted to being the 'fixer' or 'janitor' of the prestigious New York law firm of Kenner, Bach and Ledeen which has been the leading law firm on a class action suit against U-North, an agricultural products conglomerate that has been accused of poisoning an entire town in Milwaukee.
When the lawyer in charge of the case, Clayton's friend and colleague, a rambling genius called Arthur Eden (played by Tom Wilkinson), stops taking his medication (he is a manic depressive) he turns rogue against U-North and his own law firm and starts to make overtures to one of the plaintiffs – a simple small town girl called Anna – claiming he has proof that U-North knew all along that their product was poisonous. Michael is sent to 'bring him in' – he is seen by the company's partners, including Sydney Pollack as Marty Bach, as highly skilled in resolving the firm's many such nuisances.
As the complicated plot unfolds, Tony Gilroy, the very skillful writer and director also weaves in the backstory of Michael Clayton's life. Although clearly a high-earning, valued entity at his law firm, he has also worked there for over a decade without making a partner. When he decides to open a bar in Brooklyn with his down and out recovering alcoholic brother, Timmy, he uses up all his savings in what is to become yet another failed small business. In debt, with a brother who has relapsed into his alcohol habit, we see a man who is in his mid-fourties, divorced, with an albeit adorable son, Henry, drifting around in a sticky amoral morass of a job which he is also, sadly, astonishingly good at.
When Tilda Swinton's neurotic but also coldly calculating character Karen Crowder, the lead consul for U-North, hires a thuggish but highly trained duo to wire tap and trail Arthur Eden, things start to slowly spin out of control. The surveillance turns into a highly efficient assassination, made to look like suicide, and while Michael is crushed he is not surprised, having dealt with people with some form of mental instability all his life (he himself had been addicted to gambling; poker in particular).
It is the lack of a suicide note from a previously meticulous, mentally ill but still brilliant Arthur that sets off small alarm bells in Michael's head. When he learns that Arthur had actually brought Anna to New York on the very day of his death, he becomes convinced that someone, somewhere, has been involved in Arthur's death.
It is impossible to recount what follows without giving away some very powerful plot details and one particularly poetic and resonant scene involving horses in the Westchester dawn.
Watch the film, the last scene in particular is riveting, and you'll find yourself wanting to rewind and watch it all over again, if not the whole film. This is the kind of film that is so well written and directed that it is an organic almost living entity – it will live on in your mind.