Who is Michael Clayton? Several characters in the movie are wondering about that, not least of all Michael Clayton himself. What he is, job description-wise in any case, is a ‘fixer’. As a cross between an investigator and a lawyer, he tries to find information and make arrangements to help the cliënts of the law firm he works for. He is called in to control the situation when a colleague and friend of his goes off on a manic-depressive bender. The man has information that makes him a liability: proof that a chemical used on crops causes cancer. The company that makes the chemical is willing to go a long way to make sure the information doesn’t leak out, leading to legal wrangling and – ultimately – murder.
The movie was executive produced by Steven Soderbergh of Erin Brockovich fame (‘woman leads claim against major company and makes them pay’) and this story feels like a collision of that movie with a John Grisham legal thriller. It’s very low-key and internal however, with lots of close-ups of George Clooney as we know and love him: broody or looking like a kicked puppy. What makes Clayton so unique and great at his job is something that eluded me, as it is said more than it is shown. The real meat of the story is not in the conspiracy and murder but in the mind of Clayton, who is broke, doing an unfulfilling job and generally wondering what his life is all about. His world seems grey and corporate. By the end, there is a resolution and a shift seems to be occurring in the mind of Clayton, but it is all so understated that it is hard to define what his emotional arc was. There are also some strands to the story that don’t really seem to matter, mostly to do with Clayton’s family. The movie keeps you interested – if not riveted – but ultimately won’t stick in your memory for too long.