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Michael Clayton review

Fresh from scripting The Bourne Ultimatum, Tony Gilroy serves up this zesty, brainy chaser with his directorial bow. It’s a killer conspiracy thriller that gets as much adrenalised mileage out of boardroom deception and corporate-sponsored homicide as the Bourne trilogy does from its brawny set-pieces. What’s more, Gilroy’s nifty, thought-prodding exposé could well land leading man George Clooney – here cementing his rep as Hollywood’s liberal town crier – another Oscar shout…

Clooney’s title character is an in-house ‘fixer’ at a massive corporate law firm which guards its rich, rapacious clients with all the ferocity of a starving lion protecting its pride. His unsavoury, shadowy role could be as ‘benign’ as covering up a hit-and-run, or as sinister as, well… whatever it takes, no questions asked – get the job done and enjoy the penthouse lifestyle. But operating in this personal and professional abyss has turned Clayton into a disillusioned burnout – just the sort of role, after Syriana and The Good German, to fulfil Clooney’s current penchant for playing disappointed men who go through crises of conscience and come out the other end with their souls soothed, if not quite saved.

It’s the guilt-wracked flip-out of hotshot colleague Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) – and his subsequent attempt to sabotage a multi-million dollar class-action suit against agrichemical giant U/North – that sparks Clayton’s morality monitor into action. Although he’s never in danger of turning into the male Erin Brockovich, quite why a shady career bastard like Clayton has this radical change of heart is only partly explored by Gilroy’s screenplay (blame seems to fall, obliquely, on a sketchy estranged-brother subplot that sends the film wobbling off its otherwise sure footing).

 

But whatever the motives, his redemptive actions are potently underlined by the riveting scenes that ensue between Clayton and U/North legal warrior Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, in yet another brittle-bitch role). As these two canny and ruthless operators spar, parry and circle each other, we’re on course for a climactic duel that’ll send thrilled chills down your spine.

Continuing to seek out writer/directors with something to say, Clooney's latest pair-up packs its anti-corporate agenda with enough meat to keep you hooked.

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