Michael Clayton (George Clooney) spends a lot of time facing into the dark midnight of the soul, his own and others’.
Late one night and early the next morning, he does both at once as he gets a call on his cell phone in the middle of a high stakes poker game because a client of his law firm needs some help with a nasty hit and run. The client is the one who hit and ran. In the middle of the night, not knowing what to do, he calls the lawyer who does his business deals. And that lawyer calls Michael Clayton.
Clayton is a lawyer, but he does not appear in court or write wills. He is a fixer, a clean-up guy. When a client petulantly says, “I thought you were a miracle worker,” he explains that he is a janitor. He cleans up messes, the kind that lawyers in their three-piece suits and three-figure ties do not want to know about. Clayton will not break the law, but he will bend it a little. He can make some calls to the right people and say soothing words to the wrong people to smooth out the rough edges. Sometimes, the most powerful thing he can do is tell the truth to people who are used to nothing but soothing words. We see that as he explains to the hit and run driver that he will not be able to get away with trying to pretend that it did not happen.
Afterward, he drives through the quiet suburbs. It is still very early in the morning. Clayton sees some horses and gets out of his car to look at them. They seem so far from his world, so pure and filled with energy. He gazes at them, letting his head clear. And then his car explodes.
We go back a few days and find out that Clayton’s closest friend at the firm, Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) was the lead counsel on a $3 billion class action suit against the firm’s client over a pesticide that allegedly poisoned some of the farmers who used it. Arthur’s increased disgust at defending the huge corporation — and his decision to stop taking his medicine — sends him into a manic spiral. Another mess for Clayton to clean up.
But he also has his own mess to clean up. An ill-advised investment with his brother in a restaurant has left him desperate for cash. All of this makes him think about what his options are and what his priorities are.
George Clooney just keeps getting better and better. His performance here is rich and deep and layered, and seeing him work through his range of reactions is enormously moving. It provides a strong center for the legal thriller swirling around him.
Parents should know that this movie includes some violence, including murder and a reference to suicide. There are references to mental illness (and drugs to treat it), alcoholism, gambling addiction, environmental toxins, and suicide. Characters use some strong language and drink (scenes in a bar).
Michael will bend some rules but not others. How can you tell? What are the factors that guide his decisions? What is the significance to the Conquest story? Why do we see Karen practicing her speech and getting dressed?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the books and films of John Grisham.