"Michael Clayton" is a throwback in the best sense of the word. From its hushed opening sequences in a Manhattan law office late at night to its sleek, pared-down narrative style, this uncommonly intelligent thriller evokes the great films of the 1970s ("All the President's Men," "Klute," "Three Days of the Condor") that managed to elicit gritty urban realism while maintaining a suave sense of style and moral complexity.
George Clooney plays the title character, a "fixer" at a white shoe law firm, who over the course of four days finds himself enmeshed in an increasingly sticky web of corporate intrigue, personal financial straits, madness and murder. As he did in "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana," Clooney does his best to suppress his blinding wattage, the better for his superb supporting cast to shine: Tilda Swinton is mesmerizing as the personification of female ambition and ambivalence; Sydney Pollack (who co-produced) utterly inhabits Clayton's ethically slippery boss; and Tom Wilkinson delivers note-perfect spoken arias of a manic-depressive who has gone off his meds (he may be crazy, but he's right).
Tony Gilroy, best known for writing the "Bourne" thrillers, makes an assured, exceptionally muscular directorial debut with "Michael Clayton," which, like a harbinger of the season, marks a return to the screen of intelligence, taste and class. Hallelujah, and hire the babysitter: It's grown-up time again at the movies.
-- Ann Hornaday (Oct. 5, 2007)
Contains profanity, including some sexual dialogue.