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Michael Clayton This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Tony Gilroy was the screenwriter behind the Bourne trilogy, and with “Michael Clayton,” Gilroy directs, upping his responsibility. This was a risky move, but it paid off; “Michael Clayton” is so well-constructed, so well-acted, but so subtly and seamlessly compact, that one does not realize it's a tour de force until the credits roll.

The plot takes the form of a sophisticated law procedural, but unfolds with painstaking intricacy. The opening sequence shows a car bomb and then rewinds a few days to reveal cause and motives. This particular jump against the linear ­narrative has become a popular device lately, and has proven effective at whetting viewer's appetites and drastically ­heightening the suspense. In “Michael Clayton,” the suspense is on full throttle.

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) works as a “fixer” for prominent law firm U-North. The exact details of his job remain fairly ambiguous, which underlines the shady company policies. He is not a celebrity per se, but his efficiency is well-known to his clients and coworkers. That is more than can be said for his family life, which is in a shambles. In debt, he struggles with a gambling addiction, as well as balancing family and his job.

The central conflict occurs when Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a respected attorney for U-North, strips naked in public and rants against the firm, calling for a class-action lawsuit against a particular executive decision he opposes. Michael is held responsible
for Arthur's outburst, using
his friend's alleged mental instability and failure to take medication as an excuse. Also involved is U-North's general counsel, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who has to remedy the situation before Arthur inflicts lasting damage.

This synopsis scarcely scratches the surface. Here is a legal thriller that does not try to stoop to a layman's understanding of business. “Clayton” ­utilizes political jargon, cold logic, and a knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the law to tell a convincing tale.

Like “Syriana” (in which Clooney also starred), “Clayton” is a intelligent film, an immersive experience into a world we do not necessarily understand but accept because of the excellent writing, acting, and directing.

The screenplay is unconventionally sophisticated. Its prose is ruthlessly assured, and characters deliver their lines with conviction. The opening monologue by Arthur is bizarrely sensational, passionate, and more than a little crazy. But the lines flow like songs, beautifully constructed, scorching barrages of hard-edged dialogue. It is real and surreal, convincing but carved to an uncanny perfection. Its words are founded upon iron professionalism while they are interwoven with dark allegorical references. It is so good, it's poetic.

The casting is spot on, and this is not just an ensemble film but also one where each steals the show. Clooney is increasingly cast as brooding, complex characters, and Michael Clayton is a role he was born to play. He commands reverence with an authoritative finesse and is unstoppable. This performance is Clooney's best to date.

Wilkinson, a versatile character actor, plays a wrecked and vulnerable Arthur. It is a hard-hitting performance featuring both alarming unpredictability and cunning, but he is is pitiful, and wallowing in paranoia.

Swinton is astonishing, an image of cool composure, but she too is tainted by an intrinsic weakness. Not surprisingly, these three bona fide actors all garnered Oscar nominations (with Swinton winning).

“Michael Clayton” is a strong film all around. For a night of intelligent entertainment marked by dramatic force, look no further.

This movie is rated R.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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