Clooney and Wilkinson shine in legal dra

Michael Clayton; Starring: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe, Ken Howard, Denis O'Hare, Robert Prescott; Dir: Tony Gilroy; Cert: 15; 1hr 59mBourne Trilogy author Tony Gilroy makes his directorial debut with this grown up thriller about the inherent injustice to be found in the US legal system.

By Andrew Clarke

Michael Clayton; Starring: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe, Ken Howard, Denis O'Hare, Robert Prescott; Dir: Tony Gilroy; Cert: 15; 1hr 59m

Bourne Trilogy author Tony Gilroy makes his directorial debut with this grown up thriller about the inherent injustice to be found in the US legal system.

It's a complex, intriguing movie, populated with high-powered performances from some of Hollywood's leading names and yet it's a film which is less than the sum of its parts.


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The ever-watchable George Clooney plays the eponymous hero - a fixer in a leading New York law firm who is representing large agro-chemical company U-North in a long-running law suit.

It seems that U-North's amazing miracle-grow fertiliser has dangerous carcinogenic properties. Leading attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has spent the past six years fending off claimants in a civil action under instruction from U-North's ice-cold legal advisor Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton).

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He has a reputation for being the sharpest civil lawyer in New York but he is a man under great mental strain. To everyone's horror, during the examination of a witness, Wilkinson's troubled Arthur Edens starts stripping off his clothes in the interview room and declares his undying love for the female witness. He even pursues her across the parking lot.

It is at this point that Michael Clayton is called in to rescue the situation but the hard-edged Karen Crowder is not be mollified by Clayton's roguish charm - it seems that Arthur knows too much and is in danger in defecting to the other side.

Michael Clayton, the movie, tries to tell an intelligent story and is always very watchable. Clooney and Wilkinson are both excellent in their lawyer roles. Clooney creates a man who is clearly a pragmatist but is troubled by the crumbling state of his home-life while Wilkinson clearly enjoys getting his teeth into a character who is teetering on the edge of sanity.

Both performances add depth and interest to a film which otherwise could have easily become bogged down in double-dealing and legal procedure. The film endeavours to have a real human edge to it in order to draw audiences in but all this added character detail sadly only serves to take Gilroy's eye off the plot.

He chooses to tell the story in a Christopher Nolan-style non-linear manner which is a exceptionally hard thing to do well. Nolan makes it look easy because he is an experienced director. Gilroy is a first-timer behind the camera and would have been well advised to keep it simple.

The result of Gilroy's narrative meanderings is a movie which is flabby and unfocussed. All the elements for a good film are present but it's in desperate need of a good trim. Character detail is good but we get too much of it. The story-telling needs to be a lot sharper and the editing much pacier. It needs to bounce along. It's movie where events are happening against the clock, the audience should be mentally running to keep up - instead we are plodding along wondering why so much time is being spent on Clooney's personal life when it doesn't really affect the outcome of the film.

Sadly Tilda Swinton is criminally under-used as U-North's hard-hearted legal beagle - she is the one character that could have used some added background information. We get to know next to nothing about her or what makes her tick which is a pity because some added motivation may have increased our understanding of some of her actions.

The film is by no means a total waste of time. Clooney and Wilkinson are both extremely watchable, the story is serviceable if a little fractured in the telling and it makes great efforts to be a film for grown-ups which is always to be applauded. An enjoyable Saturday night treat but by no means a classic.

***

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