Stop tooting Oscar horns, please. Michael Clayton is way over-hyped. It is a capable legal thriller, but it moves at a glacial pace and the fine, 1970’s-style character development has no 1970’s-style emotional payoff. Oh, and George Clooney wears too much 1980’s-style eyeliner.
Michael Clayton (Clooney) is the water carrier at a big Manhattan law firm — a so-called ‘fixer’ — and his middle age is not what he wanted. Divorced, barely tolerated by his young son and generally despised by everyone else — his life is crumbling like the restaurant he tried to open. But he gets a piece of leverage in the form of a document that proves a farm fertilizer company knowingly sold a deadly chemical.
There are very few twists and no turns as Clayton mopes his way through the mystery, trying to understand why a big partner (Tom Wilkinson) suddenly went bonkers in the case. It’s never explained to my satisfaction — a manic-depressive who goes off his meds doesn’t quite seem to match scope of the madness.
The Clayton character wishes he was Rick from Casablanca, but he lacks more than an Ilsa. Writer/director Tony Gilroy never challenges him with anything that can’t be overcome in a quick, conflict-less scene. The movie feels like a genre exercise, not a genre workout.