Michael Clayton (2007) 120 Min.

Rated: R
Grade: CCCC=C
Budget: $21.5 million
Box Office: $49 million US, $38 million Int’l, $10 million DVD

Directed by: Tony Gilroy, in his directorial debut, who produced and wrote Proof of Life, Bait, and The Cutting Edge, and wrote the screenplays for all three Bourne movies, Armageddon, and The Devil’s Advocate.
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Michael O’Keefe, Sydney Pollack, and Tilda Swinton.

When the defense attorney overseeing a massive class action lawsuit against a pesticide company has a meltdown, the law firm employs their “fixer” to solve the problem and get the situation under control. Unfortunately, Michael Clayton is struggling to repay a debt on a failed restaurant, and his friendship with the guy may put him on the wrong side of some very nasty people.

Entertainment Value: C
I started with it as a B, but I realized that I’ve been giving movies more credit than they deserve. C is average, and C this is. I wish I could say it was better. I certainly expected better of it. The problem is the storytelling, which is too frantic and not revealing enough. It’s very much in the style of the Bourne movies and other Clooney and Damon work where you feel like they’re deliberately trying to tell you not quite enough that you want to know, like watching a TV that’s not quite loud enough to hear everything clearly. It’s annoying.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality B, Violence C, Language D, Illegality C
The movie is rightly rated R and couldn’t have been rated anything else, but it’s mostly for language, including some pretty graphic sexual discussion. Yes, there is killing, yes there is drinking. But the real issue is the language, which describes tawdry behavior and is filled with profanity.

Significant Content: C
Corporations are evil and will do anything for money. Corporate lawyers are as corrupt as the clients they defend, and they know it. Friendship is extremely important. We all have moments of clarity, the only question is whether we honor them. It’s important to do the right thing, but figuring out what that is can be difficult. Gambling is dangerous. It’s better to be the best at your niche talent than to be average at something else.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I was let down. It was neither crafted all that well nor all that thought-provoking, as you’ll see from the discussion questions. Mostly, I was just disappointed that this movie wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. Only the ending was even a little bit surprising, and there just for a moment.

Discussion Questions:
~Have you ever had a moment of clarity or epiphany that forced you to reevaluate everything in your life? Was your salvation experience like this? Did people think you were crazy afterward? To what degree does Arthur represent a Christ figure in this movie? John the Baptist?
~Money is a rough measure of the value we bring to other people’s lives. As such, it can entice us to be better to them than we would otherwise be, but it can also entice us to be worse. Is money generally better for humanity than harmful? What would Michael Clayton say? Arthur?
~What do you think the point of this movie is?
~What sort of conscience does Michael Clayton have? Do you think that small misdeeds accumulate on our consciences over time?

~Would it be fair to describe Michael Clayton as a prophet whose primary task is to see reality as it is and then explain that reality to others who would rather not see it clearly?
~What is the purpose of the book, “Realm and Conquest” in this movie?
~Do you think that a person can in good conscience work in defense of a corrupt corporation? Do corporations deserve their legal defense?
~How should Swinton have behaved differently at any point in the movie?
Overall Grade: C
A whole host of other law and corporation movies were better, especially Devil’s Advocate. But just because this wasn’t great, don’t think it was bad either. It was just average.

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