George Clooney in Michael Clayton courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
- cynicism, disillusionment and all those Oscar nominations!
has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, so now's the time catch up with it on DVD.
Michael Clayton (
) is a lawyer, but
isn't a courtroom drama: It's dedicated to the proposition that the real drama of legal proceedings takes place everywhere but in court.
And Clayton is the guy who, in most films about the law, would be the bad guy: An in-house fixer for the white-shoe Manhattan firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. He brokers private deals, talks reason into arrogant clients convinced they can get away with murder and babysits for staffers with problems, like senior partner Arthur Edens (
), a great guy as long as he takes his psychotropic meds. The firm needs Clayton enough that they've bailed him out of his own messes, notably a recurring gambling problem. But he's not quite their sort, a blue-collar scrapper who put himself through public schools rather than a privileged Ivy Leaguer. And Clayton is fine with that, until the day he isn't.
That day arrives when he's sent to Milwaukee to retrieve Edens, who's about to blow a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit for the firm. Their client, agribusiness conglomerate U/North, is accused of deliberately marketing carcinogenic pesticides, and Edens has proof that they're guilty as charged. Beset by personal problems and off his medication, Edens has decided to expose U/North rather than protect it. Clayton's assignment is to get Edens under control, but Edens is as smart as he is unbalanced and U/North has put its own dog on the job: Newly appointed chief in-house counsel Karen Crowder (
), who's got a lot to prove and a lot to lose if she doesn't silence Edens.
Screenwriter and first-time director
(his credits include all three
movies) pulls off a remarkable feat in
: Making a film about a compromised man's moral awakening (or, more correctly, reawakening) that isn't cloying, sentimental or false.
That he wraps it in the trappings of a smart, genuinely gripping thriller in which car chases and gunfights take a backseat to tainted words and backroom manipulation is just the icing on the cake. He richly deserves both his best screenplay and best directing nominations, as do Clooney, Wilkinson and Swinton in the acting categories. The film is a real gem that never found its audience in theaters, so don't let it get away now that it's on DVD.
Things to Consider:
Everyone has a favorite lawyer joke or demeaning quote (Charles Dickens' "The law is a ass" and Shakespeare's "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" are perennials) so why are there so many movies and TV shows about lawyers?
What's your favorite legal thriller?
Send your movie questions to
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Previously in DVD Tuesday:
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Shoot 'Em Up
A Mighty Wind
It's a Wonderful Life
All About Eve
Sweet Smell of Success
Daughters of Darkness
A Simple Plan
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Gone in 60 Seconds
Bob le Flambeur
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Devil Wears Prada
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
In Cold Blood