Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Movie Review: Michael Clayton.

When an attorney friend learned that I saw Michael Clayton he asked if it was another lawyer-bashing movie. I laughed because it is and it isn't. In short, it's like a lawyer's answer where both "yes" and "no" may credibly pass for truth.

On the one hand, an attorney (Tom Wilkinson's character) is presented as a hero protecting injured victims of corporate greed. He uncovers a damaging research memo and toils to help plaintiffs win with it.

On the other hand, the same attorney obliterates conventional attorney ethics because he was the lead counsel for the defendant corporation. Also, he was a paranoid schizophrenic who "came to his senses" only after he came off his meds. This attorney, considered a courtroom wizard, equates attorneys (primarily himself) with "janitors" who clean up after others.

George Clooney plays another attorney struggling with his own ethics and motivations in this ethical morass. Clooney's character, Michael Clayton, works in the same law firm as Wilkinson's character. Clooney is known as the firm's "fixer," who is directed to control the damage (to the firm mostly) wrecked by Wilkinson's "epiphany." Instead of fixing others, Clooney's character fixes his own ethics in the process.

As the characters work out this morality play, the viewer is treated with respect. Michael Clayton unfurls a nonlinear story with many ambiguities and serious themes. As someone else said about the film, "Hire a babysitter, it's adult time at the cinema again."

Those born before the 80s can be thankful for that.

Michael Clayton receives an A-.

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