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Vol. LXI, No. 42
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

NOW WHOM CAN I TRUST?: Michael Clayton (George Clooney) seems to be taking a moment to reflect upon the complex events that surround the latest situation he has been called upon to clean up.

Michael Clayton: Potboiler Pits Law Firm’s Fixer Against Corporate Client

Although attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has been with Kenner, Bach, and Ledeen for 17 years, he’s never been made a partner. Despite being low man on the totem pole, he still enjoys a certain amount of status because the nature of his work makes his services invaluable to the prestigious Manhattan law office.

As the firm’s fixer, Michael’s job involves mopping up messy situations by any means necessary, even if that might sometimes require bending, or even breaking, the law. For example, when a wealthy client is involved in a hit-and-run accident, he’s quickly called-in to devise the best strategy to keep the story out of the press.

However, nothing in his checkered career has prepared him for the chain of events that unfold in the wake of the apparent mental breakdown of Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson). Edens is defending a billion-dollar class action suit against U-North, an agro-chemical company that is accused of manufacturing cancer causing chemicals. After six years as the lead lawyer on the case, Edens inexplicably did a striptease while mumbling incoherently to himself during a deposition being conducted in Milwaukee.

The firm’s managing partner Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) rushes his reliable “fixer” to Wisconsin to control the damage. However, Clayton soon discovers that he’s in over his head because Edens hasn’t merely gone off his medication as suspected, but has had a change in conscience and intends to go public with some very incriminating U-North internal memos. Also, Edens has developed a crush on one of the plaintiffs, a cute, young woman he hopes to rendezvous with in the Big Apple.

“I’m not a miracle worker, I’m a janitor,” an exasperated Clayton complains about a situation that even he can’t cover up completely. This doesn’t sit well with steely Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), U-North’s chief in-house counsel who reports directly to CEO Don Jeffries (Ken Howard). With so much money at stake and no longer trusting anybody at Kenner, Bach and Ledeen, the company’s upper management decides to devise its own plan to solve the problem.

Corporate ethics is at the center of the intricate web woven by the film Michael Clayton, a modern morality play marking the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy, a seasoned scriptwriter best known for the Bourne trilogy. Gilroy has assembled a talented cast for his script, a chilling tale that implies that the criminal behavior of U-North might be standard operating procedure among some industry CEOs in today’s globalized economy.

Employing a wraparound as a cinematic device, the film opens with visual pyrotechnics that show the deliberate destruction of Michael’s late model car by saboteurs. After it is clear that he has survived the explosion, the plot rewinds to four days earlier and proceeds to reveal how the hunter has come to be the hunted.

In the closing scene, which is actually a repeat of the film’s beginning, it’s now no surprise why Clayton’s been reduced to crying out to his employers-turned-tormentors, “I’m not the guy you kill. I’m the guy you buy off.” Erin Brockovich (2000) meets A Civil Action (1998), but features a flawed hero with blood on his hands and an ace up his sleeve.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated R for profanity. Running time: 120 minutes. Studio: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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