George Clooney does something unusual in Michael Clayton. He looks uncomfortable. Perhaps our smoothest star since Cary Grant, Clooney has made a career of playing men who are confident and in control.
He starts out that way here. His title character is a corporate law firm’s “fixer,” a shadowy character who manages all the back-door alleys, legal and otherwise. Yet when a friend at the firm (Tom Wilkinson) goes mad from a crisis of conscience, Clayton begins to lose his own sense of self. The directorial debut of screenwriter Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton is a tightly constructed legal thriller that is elevated by a handful of dynamite scenes. Most of these involve Clooney, whether it is a moment of panicked parenting Clayton has with his young son or the climactic, gotcha moment Clayton pulls on the nefarious chief council of an agricultural chemical company (Tilda Swinton).